As the world tries to comprehend the horrific story of John Bunn, a Brooklyn Black man wrongfully imprisoned at 14 for murder for 17 years for a murder he did not commit, stories of wrongful convictions pop up in Hollywood. Canal Street is one of those provocative stories hitting the big screen this fall.
Screened at The American Black Film Festival, this movie moved many in the crowd to tears.
This story as abstract as it was, still felt familiar. This fictional account of one young Black male’s (in the film his name is Kholi Styles ) experience with race and profiling, echoes the voices of so many in Black America’s history.
One may not immediately think of the Scottsboro Boys, Marvin Anderson, Trenton 6 or the Central Park 5, but The Source readers should can immediately reflect on the fate of the late Kalief Browder. Kholi’s story fits snuggly into these unsettling narratives and Bryshere Gray is growing as an actor, making you forget that he is the spoiled Hakeem Lyons on Fox’s. He jumps all the way in and almost is unrecognizable as the stripped-down teen (even going as far as getting braces to bring the character to life). You instantly relate his character to the many boys that you know that could by a fluke of circumstance could be in the same wrongfully accused/ wrongfully convicted position.
The movie imitates art.
In fact, it hard to review The National Registry of Exonerations (a joint project between the University of California, Irvine; University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law) report that states that Black people have higher chances of being wrongfully convicted than whites. Blacks are also more likely to spend longer in prison before being exonerated for their crimes.
The facts don’t lie: African Americans (and those of the diaspora) represent 13% of the US population, they represent almost 50% of the 1,900 recorded exonerations.
So, Canal Street is timely. It is profoundly timely.
It is also a lovely story about love between father (played brilliantly by Mykelti Williamson) and son. It is a story about the carelessness of youth. It is a story about friendships that cross cultures and even more exceptionally, it is a story of faith and trust.
The film’s supporting cast is a who’s who in Black Hollywood: Mekhi Phifer, Chris Spencer, Lance Reddick, Michael Beach, Jamie Hector, Woody McClain and Harry Lennix. They all give strong performances and pushes forth the idea that this is a Black film for Black men, made by Black men. The highlight of the film (outside of the excellent direction and writing by new comer Rhyan LaMarr), was the use of popular influencers to push the conversation in what felt like real time. Using radio personalities and social media stars like Yandy Smith, Don Benjamin, DeStorm Power, Da Brat, Angela Yee and more proved to be a successful device for the film.
Canal Street, distributed by Smith Global Media and produced by Red Guerrilla Entertainment, hits the big screen in September.