A harsh, uncompromising doc about a St. Louis high-schooler and the struggles she faces in her inner-city community
“For Ahkeem” takes viewers and plunges them dead center into an all-too-familiar story.
Directors Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest follow Daje “Boonie” Shelton, a high-schooler in St. Louis who, in the documentary’s opening moments, is sent to an alternative education facility after she’s kicked out of public school for fighting. She has no other choice, the judge tells her, and his word is final. It’s his way or no way.
There, Boonie struggles in several classes she needs to pass in order to graduate. Outside of school, things aren’t much better. Her boyfriend, Antonio, gets her pregnant and then winds up in jail after a joyride in a stolen vehicle. Meanwhile, the Ferguson riots are unfolding around her community in the wake of the death of Michael Brown.
“For Ahkeem” puts a face and a beating heart behind the plight of young, inner-city African Americans. It’s heartbreaking watching Boonie strive to leave her community behind — she dreams of splitting for Hawaii — and then falling victim to the pressures and realities of her environment. Help, not to mention hope, is in short supply.
Levine and Van Soest are on top of their subjects with a startling familiarity and shoot in such a clean, unfiltered style that at times you question if they’re working from a script or if their subjects are actors.
Other story elements are so commonplace that they’re glazed over, to a numbing effect. Boonie shows off a bullet wound but doesn’t explain how she received it. Later, she trails off when listing off all the friends she knows that have been killed.
It’s not meant to shock or sadden. It’s just a part of life.
Not rated: Language
Running time: 90 minutes
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