Englewood on film
New film explores life in the South Side
08/15/2012 10:00 PM
The South Side neighborhood of Englewood made headlines again the weekend of Aug. 11 and 12 when gunshots rang out, wounding six men in three separate incidents. The victims were all in their 20s and 30s.
The news is shocking, but not surprising.
Bordered by Garfield Boulevard on the north and 75th Street on the south, and by the Dan Ryan Expressway on the east and the Penn Central railroad tracks on the west, the neighborhood ranks amongst Chicago’s most dangerous. In 2011, more murders were committed in the district than any other in the city, even as Chicago’s overall murder rate dropped.
The media details Englewood’s struggles with gang violence, street crime, drug activity, murder and more, but superficially.
A new film screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center as a part of the Black Harvest Film Festival seeks to remedy this imbalance.
Englewood (The Growing Pains in Chicago) follows one year in the lives of three Englewood teens and the life choices, temptations, romances and situations that forever change them. It’s a familiar story that has been mined in many films centered on youth struggling in rough inner-city neighborhoods, but it resonates nonetheless.
Dennis (a.k.a. D-Money), Josh, and Calvin are best friends entering their senior year of high school. The trio is tight, but they’re incredibly different.
D-Money, who serves as the film’s narrator, is a typical street hustler forever looking for money by slinging dope, playing craps or pulling stick-up jobs with no thoughts of the future. Josh is the school’s basketball star; a good-looking ladies’ man with eyes on college hoops and pro ball. Calvin is a sincere, ace student who attends church every week and helps in the community.
Despite their differences, the friends have much in common. All suffer from dysfunction and tragedy at home.
D-Money’s father abandoned his family, leaving D responsible for his family’s welfare while his mother smokes pot and goes out on the town. Josh’s brother was murdered, fracturing his family. His father is verbally and physically abusive, as well. Calvin has lived with his loving grandmother since his parents’ death in a car accident a few years earlier.
Englewood has no set plot, but it doesn’t meander. Director William L. Cochran, who stars as D-Money, chooses to simply chart the friends’ differences and commonalities and how they change during their last year in school.
We watch them find love, uncover artistic talents, embrace fatherhood, yearn for life beyond high school, confront personal demons, and more. They become men despite the harsh realities surrounding them — some of which are birthed from their own foolish hands. The character studies give life to those who are often reduced to front page fodder after being caught in (or causing) the crossfire. Ultimately, the neighborhood keeps its grip on the trio in predictably tragic fashion, but the impact is strong despite the cliché.
The film doesn’t blame external forces entirely for its characters’ circumstances, however.
Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”) is a mantra in the film, stressing the importance of a strong, supportive family in a child’s development. It’s an affirming position, but somewhat naïve. Its adherence would certainly have benefited some of Englewood’s characters, but even the most loved suffer in this film. All the support, love and positivity in the world can’t stop bullets from those who don’t care.