“Blueprint” Film At Chicago International Film Festival Discusses Violence on Chicago’s South Side

When Jerod, a daycare teacher, experiences the death of his close friend, he must decide how to grapple with the violence in his community. Meanwhile, he’s also attempting to mend a tattered relationship with his girlfriend and their two children. A unique collaboration between filmmaker Daryl Wein (Lola Versus) and Chicago actor Jerod Haynes, Blueprint captures the reality of being a black man in Chicago’s Southside with bracing heart and authenticity.

Blueprint”, directed by Daryl Wein, and co-written by Daryl Wein and the film’s star, Jerod Haynes, is a close look at the issue of gun violence in Chicago—specifically, Chicago’s South Side. The film includes a citing of the May statistic of 486 shooting that resulted in 52 deaths. (*Note: WGN news of 10/1/2017 did report a recent decrease in such mayhem.)

The film is told through the point-of-view of Jerod Haynes’ character (also named Jerod). He is struggling to find a job to support a young daughter and the child’s mother (it’s never very clear if they are officially married or simply parents to the child together). Haynes is a talented, young African American Chicago actor who had roles in “Southside with You” (2016) and television’s “Empire” (2015) and he does a  fine job playing this role.

The film focuses on the death of Jerod’s best friend Reggie, who was a star basketball player and one of “the good guys that represented peace.” The film opens with the two old buddies shooting hoops, but we soon learn that the unarmed Reggie was shot in the back by a policeman, while running away. Reggie’s death is yet another shock to the black community. (One dedication at film’s end to 33-year-old Curtis Posey, who acted in the film in a small role and was killed by violence on 6/27/17,  was but one of 3 similar incidents that affected cast members since the beginning of the film.)

After that dismal news, Jerod begins to drink heavily and his relationship with the mother of his young daughter suffers. They were already on the outs; Jerod was living in his mother’s house.

Reggie’s friends and relatives on the South Side are both angry and anguished at his senseless killing. They aren’t buying any accounts that try to say Reggie was packing heat and the best line describing how they feel is uttered by Reggie’s mother, who says, “Reggie got shot because they didn’t see him as a human being.  We can’t have that luxury of thinking it won’t happen to us, because, every other day, it’s somebody else.”

With the recent Trump Twitter storm about NFL athletes who take a knee during the National Anthem, it is easy to see that this is a timely and topical film, and with the shooting deaths tonight of 58 concert-goers in Las Vegas attending a Jason Aldean concert, it’s easy to also say that it’s about time we had a serious discussion about gun violence in America that doesn’t cave to  NRA lobbyists.

Tai, the mother of Shanesia, wants Jerod to step up and be a man, act like a man, be responsible. In a Black Lives Matter gathering following Reggie’s death, Jerod says, “We don’t have fathers. We don’t have the blueprint. The women are holding us together.” This, of course, is a true allusion to the fact that black families are often matriarchies where the women do hold the family together.

In the aftermath of Reggie’s slaying, various factions meet to discuss what can be done to stop this violence.  The pastor in the film quotes the Bible, saying, “The Bible says, ‘Be angry, but sin not.” An opposing point of view is voiced by a young black man who says, “It’s not what we can’t do.  It’s gonna’ be what we will do.  We can’t allow them to do us like this.” He hands Jerod a gun, saying, “This is life and death right here,” and urging Jerod to defend himself, if necessary.  Nevertheless, the feeling articulated in the film is: “It’s a cycle. It’s a continuum.” And, notes Jerod, “Everybody I get close to I lose.”

Later in the film, we will see Jerod throw the gun in a trash bin (symbolic screenwriting 101). I am sure I am not the only audience member who was thinking, “He should wipe that thing clean of his fingerprints before he rejects violence and discards it. Otherwise, he risks being framed for another murder!” Nor the only one who noticed that Jerod was driving drunk after Reggie’s funeral.

THE BAD

Another plot point that three critics near me argued about after the film finished was whether or not Jerod qualifies as a hero when he is drinking heavily, is still unemployed, and is still living at home and, according to girlfriend/wife/soulmate Tai (Tai Davis) has been sneaking around with another woman.

Regardless of Jerod’s heroic goodness (or lack thereof), the actor playing him, as well as the supporting players, do a fine job. The issue of gun violence is certainly relevant. The young girl playing Jerod’s daughter (Shanesia Davis-Williams) is very natural and delivers her lines like a true pro, especially this one:  “Do our lives matter, or is it that white people’s lives matter more?”

The racism issue is complex and the answer is lost in the eternal ongoing dispute over gun rights versus gun control. Nevermind that other countries like Australia found a way to curb senseless gun deaths. We don’t seem to have a handle on the problem, even after Sandy Hook and the tragic murder of entire classrooms of elementary school children. (Some of the more radical GOP talking radio hosts even insist that the poor children of Sandy Hook never died; it was all a hoax, just like the moon landing in 1969.)

One somewhat weak line was:  “One day—I don’t know when—it’ll get better.” (To which I muttered, under my breath, not while Donald Trump is allowed to run roughshod over the Constitution and sully the Presidency.)

THE GOOD

The movie is well-acted and it is also well-photographed by cinematographer Toshihiko Kizu, who makes the South Side and settings like the Shedd Aquarium, plus the many bridges In the city, come to life as near-characters in their own right(s). There is also original music by Jukebox, (one song even sung by the director) and one with the refrain “Fall in love with the magic girl.” (That, apparently, will solve all the problems the film presents.)

It had an upbeat happy ending. It begs the question of, “What ARE we going to do about these senseless killings? One character says, “What can we do?  I dunno. That’s the problem.  We’ve got to figure out what to do.” Isn’t that generally the issue with ANY problem? And do any of these issues seem to be getting better (or, indeed, any attention) under the current federal administration?

There is even a line that says, “We’re seeing social injustice all around the world.” NEWS FLASH: we all know that. What does this film propose be done about it?  I did not see it come down on the side of violence (Malcolm X, the Black Panthers) or the side of peaceful nonviolence (Martin Luther King).  It just sort of straddles the fence in presenting the modern-day horror of life in the ‘hood.

I grew up in the 60’s. I remember Tommy Smith and Juan Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics  and the Symbionese Liberation Army and Bobby Seales and Huey P. Newton founding the Black Panther movement and all the rest of it (Watts, etc.). I was in France when the French newspapers trumpeted: “America At the Edge of the Abyss.”

We’re there again, folks. Happy endings are looking pretty scarce and we DO need to figure out what to do about it.

 

Genre:  Drama
Length:  76 minutes
Directed by:  Daryl Wein
Stars
:  Jerod Haynes, Ta’ish Davis
Writers:  Jerod Haynes and Daryl Wein
Cinematographer:  Toshihiko Kizu, Daryl Wein

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo's Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.