To Raise A Child: Filmmaking in Today’s Society
We seem to be at a crossroads, a country with broken systems and the desire to repair the problem. It’s in these times that our duty as creators is at its height. Our voices and perspectives can open closed windows to reality, allowing for greater understanding to flow between apposing societal groups. The created revelations can hold heavy weight, though, and at times can be too forceful and cause a push back. However, when a film executes a balance between the warring perspectives in a creative way, both sides are heard and a lesson is learned.
It’s not fair to lay that much responsibility on one filmmaker, but what Robert Henry is able to showcase in his new short film To Raise a Child is breathtaking and culturally important. He covers the heated topic of police shootings of African-American youth in such a way that opens the dialogue on that subject, but also addresses other socially important issues.
To Raise a Child is about a family, notably the parents, as they try to piece their life back together after the accidental shooting of their son by an Anglo cop. They try to figure out how they fit into this disturbingly common narrative, each finding their way to cope. While father Darius (Jayson Wesley) focuses on healing while being present, mother Olivia (Briana Swann) can’t seem to stop grieving the past. This couple each presents their own perspective throughout the film, and the audience understands where they both are coming from. There is so much more beyond the veil, though, and To Raise a Child is not just about the parent’s healing process, but open wounds we all have.
The film is powerful, in both the expected and unexpected emotions, and consists of a lot of themes to unpack. Those issues don’t deter from the original theme, which is impressive for a film of this emotional magnitude. The continued focus of the film is due to Robert Henry’s work and dedication to the story. He spent several years working on the script, spending quality time with developing the characters, their backgrounds, and their desires.
“The themes came from different narratives within the characters while still remaining relative to the overall theme and plot. Each character presents a different perspective of what it’s like to grow up in America while being black,” Robert Henry adds, “The conversation flows from topic to topic as it normally would during dinner. I wanted to present different viewpoints and let the characters react to an issue as it was presented in real time.”
Creating film is a way for us to speak our truths and discuss our narratives, but when choosing a personal issue it can be hard to stay subjective creatively. This can create unique challenges, but there is also the opportunity for beauty to be born. Robert Henry understood his shortcomings and advantages, and used them to find his way through the storytelling.
“I am not a woman; I am not a mother. Having to write outside of myself was definitely a challenge but this is a real issue that is going on right now. I knew two things: that I was furious with the amount of police brutality in a corrupt system and also that I had a resolution that needed to be sent through film,” Robert Henry says. “With that being said, I have five characters of different ages, backgrounds down to their sexual preference and I knew that I only had one narrative. I used my observations of the world, of my friends and family and created characters based on extracted characteristics from their personalities. The use of my own imagination and overall theme, I connected the dots and hopefully that transcends to the audience.”
For this audience member, transcendence was found. The respect that was paid to each view point, to each distinctive voice was appreciated. Our society is full of boisterous conflicting lives, and that is what the film represents under the umbrella of the issue at hand. The fluidity of emotion throughout the whole film is what centers the project in reality. Robert Henry is the first to acknowledge the help he received during production to keep these emotions in relevant to the story. He credits his team of producers (Dolapo Olorode, Keshiyena Pieters, Kara Myers and Sidney O. Young) and editor (Brandon Taylor) for keeping everyone focused and on target.
“I got inspired to write about police brutality because I was (and still am) aggravated with our broken system so the plot naturally came out: a family who lost their son due to police brutality. Then I specified: a couple who lost their son due to police brutality have a family dinner party that goes wrong,” Robert Henry adds.
This may not sound like much, but when you are as passionate about a project as these people are, it’s hard not to extend the road to open all the doors to the topics you want to express. It also helped that while he was in the writer’s seat, Robert Henry limited himself to 20 pages. This meant 20 minutes to tell the story he wanted to tell. As most ideas expand when we set our boundaries, To Raise a Child followed suit, starting with the “dinner party gone wrong” and flowing over into youth shootings.
As the story continues to unfold, as the diversity continues to be explored, the balance of the film was pin-pointed on one conflict; the broken system vs engrained humanity. This aspect of the film not only fascinated me, but affected me deeply. There are many issues in our world that ends up being side verses side, when the heart of the problem goes deeper than that. Robert Henry wasn’t afraid to dig deep, to showcase something that is rough yet sensitive. Yes, police brutality is addressed, but so is homophobia, stereotypes of teen-pregnancies, and the non critical in-laws.
“There were a lot of issues that needed be addressed not only within the system but also within ourselves. Utilizing the characters, their backgrounds and desires, I wanted to explore a different version of the narrative that’s been told over and over again,” Robert Henry explains. “I knew immediately after drafting the initial idea that I wanted it to be a moment. I wanted to explore different perspectives within the moment; within the environment. We all come from different environments and I placed these characters within their own right and let them react through dialogue.”
During my questioning, I asked Robert Henry about a moment at the dinner table in which two generations had a conversation about a character being an openly gay man. In this moment, no matter how brief, To Raise a Child connected all our societal fears (homo-, xeno-, theophbias) as fear of the misunderstood. In Henry’s other shot film Ollie’s Luck, he goes more in-depth into the world of homophobia, but sees this current conversation as a companion piece.
“I also knew that there needed to be a conversation and the film represents different narratives within the black community. I just find it to be sad and ironic how people can oppress other people, especially our brothers and sisters within our own black community,” Robert Henry says. “I wanted Kevin to be stern, bold and valid in his point while having the ability to defend himself. There is a clear difference between the older and younger generations, as shown in the film, where the millennials are deciding to speak up in ways that the older generations did not know how.”
To Raise a Child is a conversation piece. It opens the door to what’s wrong in our world by providing a platform for people to come together to shine light on the underlining problems that are the ones truly at fault. It addresses difficult, emotional topics, but the characters that inhabit this world are welcoming and the film is not forceful.
The only way we can fix what is broken is to learn from those across the table from us, and Robert Henry has done his part in helping to bridge that gap. To Raise a Child is making its way around multiple festivals around the states, and if it is showing in your area, please check it out.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by King Henry Films