For once, Richmond wasn't the filming location for a Civil War film. Instead, it was the setting for a movie whose visceral topic hit close to home.
"Troop 491: Adventures of the Muddy Lions," a two-hour feature-length film, was written and directed by Richmond native Patrick "Praheme" Ricks. It follows the story of Tristan, a middle school-aged African American boy living in Richmond's Highland Park neighborhood, which is notorious for its high poverty and crime rates.
Throughout the movie, Tristan struggles between choosing to better his life through good grades and joining the boy scouts, or succumbing to peer pressure and the societal expectations that society often, and quite unjustly, places on young black males, such as joining gangs and engaging in other illegal activities.
Ricks, who grew up in Sherwood Park, a middle-class neighborhood in North Side, said he chose to set his movie in Highland Park in order to illuminate the systemic issues present there and in neighborhoods similar to it. The movie was also loosely based on his own experiences, he said, such as being a member of the actual Troop 491 based out of Providence Park Baptist Church, and struggling to hide his membership at school to avoid humiliation.
While he doesn't see himself as a mentor, Ricks said he hoped the film encouraged young, African American males to seek out good influences and good role models, as well as encouraged older, African American men to take others under their wings and direct them away from lives of crime and incarceration.
"Often, kids who grow up in these types of environments don't have anyone to look up to or to protect their dreams," he said, "and they need their elders to protect their dreams for them. When kids lose their dreams or have them deferred, that's when they stop thinking twice about taking someone else's life."
Cassie Price, community initiatives and program manager at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, was responsible for bringing the screening of "Troop 491" to campus. After attending a screening at the Bowtie Theatre in Richmond, she thought the movie was relevant to the volunteer work that University of Richmond students were doing in the community and thought they would enjoy it. Hundreds of students at Richmond are involved in tutoring and mentoring programs in Richmond's North Side, she said, including 210 students in Richmond's Build It program, which is based almost solely in Highland Park.
Ricks said he planned to continue showing his film nationally and internationally, in order to continue raising awareness for the issue. The Boy Scouts of America have already expressed interest in using the film to encourage inner-city recruitment for the boy scouts, he said.
The next screening is scheduled in London on Thursday, March 6, at the British Film Institute.
Contact reporter Kelsey Shields at firstname.lastname@example.org