While many people consider a “coming of age” story to center on teenagers who go through some sort of painstaking experience that thrusts them into the realm of adulthood, Jamal Joseph’s new film, “Chapter & Verse” is the exception to the rule with it’s much needed empathetic view into life after incarceration. Through the eyes of Sir Lance played by the film’s co-writer, Daniel Beaty, the 30-something is forced to re-learn his Harlem neighborhood while doing his best to navigate his new-normal which includes living in a half-way house with a curfew, participating in frequent drug tests and an inability to work within his field of computer science because of his prison record. Joseph, a former Black Panther now collegiate professor was incarcerated for nearly ten years and Beaty’s father and brother’s bouts with drug addictions resulted in a revolving door of jail stints. Said personal experiences within the prison system allowed Beaty and Joseph to create a compelling tale with “Chapter & Verse” that will certainly leave the audiences in an emotional wreck with it’s ending. In an exclusive interview with the LA Sentinel, Beaty as well as the film’s co-star, legendary actress, Loretta Devine, give insight into what makes “Chapter & Verse” a must-see film and what viewers can do to help detour young men of color from constantly re-entering the prison systems.
LAS: What attracted you to the role of Miss Maddy?
Loretta Devine: I had seen Daniel Beaty’s work several times, he’s done several one-man shows. He contacted me and let me know that he was interested in me being apart of the film. I read the script and I thought it was really incredibly written about a young man trying to restart his life after prison..
LAS: Do you think your character could have been more proactive in detouring your grandson from the temptations of joining a gang?
LD: Ty (Khadim Diop) wasn’t in a gang yet but he was very close to it. He was a very talented young man which was shown in the film through his artwork and his interest but he was really being pulled the wrong way which is how life is. Sometimes people come into your life to save your life and Daniel’s character Lance became Miss Maddy’s saving grace because he was the one that saved her grandson when she couldn’t. So to me that’s what the film is mostly about. Oftentimes when kids are left with their grandparents they’re not agile enough to keep up with all of the things that they’re going through. Miss Maddy was having trouble understanding the internet. You know how young people know all about that so I think that’s very relevant to what’s happening to grandparents today with their young kids that they’re having to raise. I think that was what’s so poignant about the story, it shows some of the reality of what grandparents of young kids are going through today.
LAS: The ending of the film seems to contradict another scene where the men participate in a Black Lives Matter march. How can we say black lives matter when it comes to police brutality but not to policing of black on black crime?
LD: [Lance] was coming from where his mental state was. He handled business the way he knew how to handle business. Black lives do matter has nothing to do with our race against our race. People solve problems the way they solve problems coming from the headspace that they and that’s what Lance did.
LAS: What did you see in Lance’s character that made you so welcoming?
LD: The film shows that they needed each other. People assumed there was going to be some romantic element but it was none of that, it was simply love. They loved each other in a pure and honest way like a mother would love her son. He needed a mother and he filled the place of having a son. As far as the ending of the film, Lance handled it the way he knew how and he left Ty in good hands.
LAS: What inspired you and Jamal Joseph to collaborate on this particular project?
Daniel Beaty: Jamal Joseph is a former Black Panther who spent 9 1/2 years in prison in connection to it. My personal story is that my father was a heroin addict and a heroin dealer and has been in and out of prison my entire life, he’s been arrested sixty times. I also have an older brother addicted to crack cocaine who’s been in and out of prison so it was really important for me to tell a story that shows the humanity and the journey of a man getting of our prison and trying to re-acclimate into society. It’s apart of our community that we have stereotypes and ideas about but we don’t actually know much about it, unless we know someone personally. So through this film the audience gets to see and hear their stories and understand their journey.
LAS: Some people may be surprised by the resolution of the film. Were the deaths the best possible resolution as opposed to Lance using his newly acquired resources to create a better life for he and Ty?
DB: He couldn’t just up and move to a new city even if he wanted to because of probation. So that’s not a realistic opportunity in that moment. And he had already tried to pay the gang off to get them to leave Ty alone but they were still going after him and he didn’t have any reason to believe that they would stop so based off the rules of the street so he did what he had to do, fight fire with fire. But I think more importantly what we thought about as writers of the film, we’re really revealing systematic oppression and the beast that everyone in the movie is having to fight and deal with—poverty, the absence of quality resources and we want to reveal the world in which these people are having to fight because ultimately that’s what needs to change, the systematic factors that don’t set him up for success when he gets out. Whether that’s his inability to get a job or being in the same community where he caused problems, not being able to move to another place even if he wanted to.
We need to start looking at what we can do as a society to set up men like Sir Lance and Ty and even the young man over the gang for success because it’s a system that’s broken, not just the actions of the individual.
LAS: After people see the film, what’s the call to action to help young men?
DB: Who is the person in my life for whom my presence allowing them to have a true second chance, allowing them to have an authentic relationship, who is the person for whom if I do that, their life can be changed for the better? That’s something we can do right now with the people right next to us. That’s what Miss Maddy does for Lance. Some people may have an issue with the actions that Lance takes but that’s what Lance does for Ty and that’s what Jomo (Omari Hardwick) does for Lance. That’s part of what the narrative is. Even in the midst of all of these challenges and systematic oppressions our capacity to love one another and show up for each other is transformative.
“Chapter and Verse” executive produced by Antoine Fuqua also starring Omari Hardwick (“Power”) and Selenis Leyva (“Orange Is The New Black”) is