For Akheem

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest

Nov 27, 2017 Web Exclusive
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This film screened at the 2017 New Orleans Film Festival

Perhaps the most surprising thing about For Ahkeem is that it’s not a narrative. The access and the proximity that co-directors Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest gained make it easy to misinterpret the film as a moving, extremely well acted drama about struggling teens in North St. Louis. But For Ahkeem is not an impressive independent feature; it is very much real life, and for 17-year-old Daje Shelton, the twelve-months it captures will define the rest of her years to come. And it is hands-down one of the best documentaries of 2017.

Shelton’s story—as we’re introduced to her—begins with a fighting-related expulsion from her high school. With only two options presented her (juvenile detention or enrollment in a school for troubled students), she attends Innovative Concept Academy. There, despite continuing struggles with low grades and disciplinary problems, she slowly begins to pull her studies back on track. However, as she nears her senior year and the prospects of a degree and even continuing education. Daje meets Antonio and soon becomes pregnant with their son, Ahkeem. All of this, in the twelve-months leading up to the police involved shooting of Daje’s contemporary, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson, MO, a killing that emphasizes the overwhelming obstacles facing Daje and her peers.

For Ahkeem is a powerful and important film; Americans need to watch it. At a time when national politics have become increasingly partisan, and when the chasm between socio-economic classes grows with each year and each piece of legislation, For Ahkeem is an essential insight into marginalized America. It has become an increasingly common argument of many pundits and personalities that the government does not exist to support those who cannot help themselves. Woe is the young man or woman who drops out of school or gets caught with drugs or has a kid when still themselves a child. If only he or she had made better decisions… Watching For Ahkeem is a stark reminder that even the systems designed to keep people out of the system often have loopholes and requirements that preclude the individuals who most need their services. The opportunities available in certain neighborhoods—and entire cities—make escape a near impossible dream, and the cycle of missteps grows.

Yes, one can argue that Daje is at times her own worst enemy. But heartbreaking scenes such as those wherein her mother details her own hopes of opening a restaurant and lifting her family out of poverty (a goal she knows she will never realize), or in which Daje and her friends casually reveal their bullet scars to one another at a sleepover make it clear there are problems uniquely endemic to underserved communities in predominantly Black America, and for many citizens of this country, those problems are a world away. We focus our philanthropic and altruistic efforts on addressing overseas disasters, but we turn a either a blind or an ignorant eye to the expanding cracks in our own society, and in this case, ignorance might be the more damning of the two. For Ahkeem makes it impossible to remain ignorant, and for that, it is essential viewing. For Ahkeem’s distribution is still extremely limited (it has scattered screenings across the country), but it is absolutely worth the cost of admission.

forahkeemfilm.com

Author rating: 8/10

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