By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Executive producer Nasir “Nas” Jones presents this vivid inner-city saga set amid Cleveland’s hip-hop underground. Teenage buddies Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Junior (Moises Arias), Boobie (Ezri Walker), and Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) shrug off school to practice skateboarding, which they hope will be their ticket to a better life. In the meantime, they steal cars to finance their dream. But when they get mixed up in a drug deal and cross a ruthless crime queen-pin Momma, played by Linda Emond, they put their friendship–and lives–on the line. Set to a choice hip-hop soundtrack and featuring an impressive ensemble cast that includes “The Wire’s” Michael K. Williams, Erykah Badu, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly, “The Land” crackles with the energy and poetry of the streets.
“The Land” hit me unexpectedly, because I wasn’t prepared for the depth of trouble in which the four skateboarders find themselves. As they advance from carjacking motorists after catching them off guard while skating in the streets, they run across a drug runner who works for the drug queen-pin. After beating the motorist, they find a stash of pills, and they really don’t know what they are doing. They begin selling the stash in order to support their skateboarding competitions. They buy new gear; flaunt money around, until they are identified by Momma’s goons. But not before they get in so deep with selling the pills. They learn to package them and go to parties offering their wares—even to the point of partying with people twice their age.
Once they are identified, their lives and the lives of their family members are at peril. By the time they figure it out totally, Junior is shot dead after hanging out with his mother and young sister watching fireworks.
Badu plays an alcoholic who hangs around the bar that Cisco’s stepfather runs, and Williams plays Boobie’s father. I loved the addition of these two. Badu was honing her acting chops, and Williams is always a commanding actor in many roles that he has had since “The Wire.” Emond plays a female drug lord who is as sweet as a grandmother on the surface but who can be as tough as nails when needed.
The circumstances under which the young men find themselves is unfortunate. They are merely trying to chase their dreams of professional skateboarding, but they haven’t completely worked the kinks out. This story could be the story of many young men living in the inner city–dreams that can’t come fast enough and education that seems unnecessary–even though sage advice would say otherwise.
Nas serves as executive producer for a film that through and through also shows the beauty and grit of Cleveland.
“The Land” is available on DVD or via streaming devices. Visit http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-land.
Editor’s Note: This week’s death of Chicago boxer Ed Brown made me think of this movie. He had had dreams of becoming a boxing champion for years. Reportedly, he has had obstacles thrown in his face time and time again. He overcame the death of his mother in the E2 nightclub tragedy in 2003 and went on to become a professional boxer—only to have his life snuffed out by the violence in Chicago’s streets. Prayers to his family and good health to his sister, who was also shot during this drive by.