Chapter And Verse Review
17 Feb 2016
You ever go the movies, see a film and then take it home with you? Have it take up residence in your heart? Simmer in your mind? Trouble yet enliven sentiments you haven’t been in touch with for quite some time? I saw Chapter and Verse at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles a few days ago and I haven’t been able to go 30 minutes without thinking of and mentally dissecting different parts of this film.
I attended the screening of Chapter and Verse with my diehard movie buddy, one of my closest friends. Pro: I have someone I can discuss this film with. Con: having a friend with me made me too embarrassed to cry during some of the excellent cry-worthy scenes. Chapter and Verse is that kind of film. Subtle at times yet so in your face during some scenes that you have to keep your feelings in check.
Lance is a former gang leader, fresh out of prison after serving eight years of a twelve year sentence. The film opens up with Lance going on several job interviews where no one will hire him. The officer at the halfway house Lance resides in forces him to take a menial job as a deliveryman at a food pantry, even though Lance is extremely skillful at fixing and building computers and is equipped with two computer-tech certificates he earned while in prison. On his first day delivering meals to health-challenged recipients, Lance meets Ms. Maddy (played by Loretta Devine), a grandmother who lives in a Harlem project with Ty, her teenaged grandson. Ty is affiliated with a treacherous street gang and he is more than his grandmother can handle. Though Lance has a tumultuous first encounter with Ms. Maddy and Ty, he becomes an instrumental part of their lives. After Lance makes a deal with the gang’s leader to let Ty out of the gang, Ty returns to school and starts preparing for a future as a college student and successful graphic artist. When the gang members decide to reprimand Ty for walking away from the gang, Lance forfeits his newfound freedom so that Ty can have a chance at a future.
Chapter and Verse was directed by Jamal Joseph, who calls himself the 3rd Man. One out of every eight black men go to college, but one out of every three black men go to prison. Joseph spent eight years in prison as a result of his affiliation with the Black Panther Party in the 1970s and earned a B.A. and M.A. while incarcerated. After his release, he founded Impact, a performing arts program for Harlem youth where the endgame is college readiness. Joseph is a former chairman and presently a full professor at Columbia University. Among other literary achievements, Joseph is the also the author of Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention.
Chapter and Verse was written by Daniel Beaty who also plays Lance, the protagonist. Beaty grew up in the streets of Detroit and his father had been to jail over 60 times since Beaty was three-years-old. In Beaty’s HBO Def Poetry Jam performance, he explains in his poem Knock Knock that every time he heard a knock on the door as a child, he thought it was his dad coming home to fulfill his responsibilities as a father. Beaty holds a B.A. from Yale and an MFA from the American Conservatory Theater.
Joseph and Beaty formed a dynamic duo and their life experiences made Chapter and Verse an authentic tour de force. Chapter and Verse was as much as a political commentary on the present day Harlem reality as it was a film about the everyday obstacle course a parolee must circumnavigate to avoid going back going back to prison. Although the film was shot on location within only eight blocks of Harlem, it was a true representation of every hood in America. Lack of job opportunities for ex-felons, petty crime, gentrification, police brutality, stop and frisk, OG’s verses newbies, brotherhood, gang initiations, gang violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, chemo-therapy and assisted suicide are some of the issues tackled in this film.
Omari Hardwick plays Jomo, Lance’s friend from back-in-the-day who supports Lance in every way possible. Hardwick delivers a wonderful performance although he made the film a little hard to watch at times. Seeing him doing pull-ups and other labor intensive exercises was very uncomfortable because it was hard to follow the story-line while desperately searching my pocketbook for a handful of tissue. I loved the camaraderie between Lance and Jomo and it was refreshing to see a film with two brothers who had nothing but good intentions toward each other.
Loretta Devine’s effervescent nature was prevalent throughout her performance as Ms. Maddy made a great contrast against Lance’s understated mannerisms in their scenes together. From a near physical altercation during their first meeting to building a warm mother and son relationship, Ms. Maddy and Lance fill each other’s voids and become each other’s foundation. Their evolution is adorable, compassionate and sincerely laugh out loud hilarious.
Khadim Diop plays Ty and though he is a first time screen actor, his performance was certainly noteworthy. Ty’s coming of age storyline took this character to two extremes: from gangbanger to schoolboy. I found Diop’s acting believable and occasionally charming. Impact must be so proud that his success.
The only negative thing I have to say about this film is that it’s not widely available yet and I may have to wait for quite some time to watch it with my kids. If I was a sociology professor, I would watch Chapter and Verse with my students and have them write papers addressing the issues tackled in this film from beginning to end. I am now officially a fan of Joseph and Beaty and I am anxious for them to produce more projects together.