Some students cheered, others hissed at times, but nearly all quietly reflected
on the realities of their streets Thursday during a special screening of "South Central" at Los Angeles' Washington High School.
Based on a novel about gang violence and hope by Donald Bakeer, who teaches English and drama at Washington, the film focuses on a young father trying to wrest his 10-year-old son from the cycle of gang violence. The father had been in prison nearly all of his son's life.
"I see little kids every day, 10 or 12 years old, who get into gangs in South-Central," said senior Jonathan Thompson, a student in Bakeer's classes in minority literature and drama. "Mr. Bakeer knows all about how the 'hood is. He relates to the kids."
For 17-year-old Parnell Martin, the movie--inspired by Bakeer's self-published 1987 novel, "Crips"--struck deep chords.
"It touched me personally," Martin said emotionally. "I haven't had a father, so for me it brought everything out. All my buddies hung with the Compton Crips. We were all our own families. We had no one to stand by us."
For Bakeer, who has taught in South Los Angeles schools for 20 years--the last three at Washington--"South Central" is more than a movie.
"There is a movement to end gang murder," said Bakeer after the screening for the movie, which opens today. "When they see this movie they get caught up in that movement. That was my dream.
"Movies, books, rap music--these are the non-traditional solutions for the problem of gang murder. The solution to gangs is not jails, not stronger, longer sentences. The solution is attention from society that's based on spirituality, humanism--things that society does not associate with South-Central."
Jamen Cotton, 16, said the movie reminded him of his 19-year-old cousin recently killed in a gang shooting.
"He didn't get the chance the little boy in the movie did," said Cotton, a junior.
Washington senior Hassan Malik said he related to the movie partly because he was a graffiti "tagger" himself until recently.
"We used to go out stealing, jacking people up," Malik said. "That's no life for anybody, especially not a black person. . . . I'm constantly trying to better myself (even as) there's always someone out there trying to put down black men."
Washington students saw "South Central" in the school auditorium, and counselor Henrietta Smith said it had a powerful effect.
"It lets them see that there is hope, and we need that," she said. "It showed the very special love that a father had for his son, even if he wasn't a good father in the beginning," she said. "And it showed that a child has to forgive a parent who didn't do it right the first time."