By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, Chicago Crusader
The African Diaspora International Film Festival Chicago 2016 recently featured a rich selection of films directed by women from different parts of the world. Leading the selection was Jeryl Prescott Sales’ “Stand Down Soldier,” a poignant film about an African-American female soldier back to civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The social significance of this film is quite remarkable, as viewers are rarely exposed to stories like the one told in this film.
According to press materials: The film very effectively puts forward the bigger issues of the challenges veterans face to reintegrate into civilian life and the issue of the protection of women in the military by going to the personal life of this one female soldier. In addition, the film explores her adjustment and mental health issues; the major disruptions her return brings into the lives of her loved ones; and the structures she, the military and her family use to help her cope with her issues and get back to a normal life.
This film took me by surprise, and I really enjoyed it. Sergeant Stacy Armstrong (played by Sales, who also wrote and directed the film, after many interviews with female soldiers in South Carolina) has seen combat three times, and even suffered sexual abuse at the hands of one of her commanding officers. She is back home with her husband of 20 years and college-age son, but things are not all good for her. She is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); in such a bad state that she has become strung out on drugs.
She is distant from her husband and seems to be closer to her medical technician drug supplier than anyone else. There are moments when she’s found just sitting on the side of a building, listless, and her husband has to be called to the scene to collect her and take her home. Their marriage and Stacy’s return home have become another casualty of war.
Stacy is in therapy, and her war-time stories are told through mini-flashbacks, as her therapist tries to encourage her to leave all the pain behind her. But that’s easier said than done, as Stacy shares how one of her combat partners was blown up right in front of her, and she was tasked with picking up his body pieces and sending them back to the states.
It is learned that Stacy’s husband, Jesse, has been cheating on her while she was serving her country. About half way through the movie, all hell breaks loose when Stacy and her drug dealer friend, Mike, are in the car with Mike driving, and a little boy is hit, while trying to retrieve a ball with which he was playing.
There are other hidden secrets to be revealed, and there isn’t one time where I’m not rooting for Stacy and hoping she gets the help that she needs. Her son is a bit ambivalent about how to approach her, and Stacy feels that her family would be better off had she not returned home. She feels helpless, alone and continues to live the nightmares of combat duty, even though she has been discharged.
This viewpoint of the toll that war and active duty can have on a female is one that I’ve not seen before. There is so much more involved, and a mani and a pedi won’t cure what’s ailing Stacy. Fortunately, however, she finally receives the help and advice that she had been getting all along, with much help from her sister friends.
“This film tells a very important story,” says Art Mattan Films principal Reinaldo Barroso-Spech. “We are proud to give it the visibility it deserves nationally and internationally.”
Sales is best known for her portrayal of Jacqui in “The Walking Dead,” and will next be seen in Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation.” Other cast members are Harry Lennix, T’Shaun Barrett, Tai Bennett, and Kevin Jackson as Jesse, among others.
For more information about “Stand Down Soldier,” visit http://www.africanfilm.com/StandDownSoldier.html.
GREAT THEATRE PICKS
The House That Will Not Stand plays through July 10 at Victory Gardens, Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. This is a play by Marcus Gardley with biting, hard-hitting dialogue, as it takes a historic stroll through a period in the early 1800’s when free women of color are permitted to enter into common-law marriages with wealthy white men. The home and life that Beartrice has built for herself and three daughters, on a foundation of money, freedom, and secrets, threatens to collapse after her husband mysteriously dies. It is a powerful and bewitching family drama filled with desire, jealousy, murder and voodoo.
For more information, call 773-871-3000.
Xanadu playing through July 17 at the American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St. For info, call 773-409-4125.
Xanadu takes place in Venice, California, in 1980. Struggling artist Sonny Malone seeks to create his own version of the American dream by renovating an abandoned warehouse into a venue for world-class entertainment – a roller disco! A hilarious and modern update of the 1980’s camp classic, Xanadu celebrates the artist’s muse, even when it comes from the most unlikely of places.