I had the opportunity to participate in a virtual roundtable during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with director/co-writer Charles Officer and stars Saul Williams, and Thamela Mpulmwana of AKILLA’S ESCAPE – which premiered last weekend at TIFF. A beautifully crafted tale of hope amidst tragedy, redemption through sacrifice, and a condemnation of the systemic criminalization of Black boys, the story challenges viewers to consider the roots of generational violence and the oft seen tragic results.
Here’s the synopsis: Akilla Brown is forty years old and for the first time in his life, the clandestine cannabis grow operation he runs is legit. Only one year into government approved legalization, the pendulum of hypocrisy takes a toll and Akilla decides to cash out. While making a routine delivery on a cool, summer night, destiny takes an unexpected turn when Akilla confronts a firestorm of masked youths in an armed robbery.
In the aftermath of the heist, Akilla captures one of the thieves, a mute fifteen-year-old boy named Sheppard. Upon learning the bandits are affiliated with the Garrison Army, a Jamaican crime syndicate his grandfather founded. Akilla is forced to reckon with a cycle of violence he thought he escaped.
You can watch the video below, where me and several members of the AAFCA family speak with Charles, Saul and Thamela about everything from the inspiration behind the project, to its relevance in today’s social climate, to the selection of the cast and character portrayals.
Please be forewarned that my portions of the video were impacted by connection interruptions (a first and a horror to realize, because I had no clue), but I was assured that my questions were in fact heard clearly by the interviewees.
However, for your clarification, I asked Thamela about portraying both a young Akilla and Sheppard, and if he found it difficult to relate to one versus the other. And during the second inquiry, I quoted Charles, who said Akilla’s Escape was created to reflect on the question, “What is the cost for Black Boys to escape generational violence,” and asked all three what they believed to be the answer.
The film is currently on the festival circuit and seeking distribution, but I will keep you informed of when and where you will be able to view. It’s contemplative, character-driven, allegorical (Officer was also inspired by Homer’s “Iliad”) and fashioned in cinema noir style – so it may not be your cup of tea if seeking a straight, gangster tale.
But for those looking for a novel telling of a universal and extremely timely story, this movie is a rarity. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
Until next thought, Thomasena