Aired secrets, shredded cover-ups: the nagging urge to sort out a family’s twisted history and gloss its garbled narrative. The literature surrounding “Deacon’s Choice,” an independent film currently in production, suggests a deep preoccupation with voices and the stories they weave. Over the course of the film, the titular protagonist Deacon Shields will struggle to parse her past drug addiction and resist relapsing whilst defining herself against the dramas of her Councilman-father and the political world that bleeds into her own. Her entry into journalism and her day job as a CPS teacher both hint at an attempt to personally re-write reality, to change her world by teaching to it.
Shot largely on Chicago’s South Side, “Deacon’s Choice” becomes a small bullhorn for the area, tackling issues like local education and gang aggression. Screenwriter and producer Kenya Renee used the film’s geography as a resource in the film’s production. She reached out to involved community institutions like LISC Chicago, Team Englewood, and the Metropolitan Family Services, organized a series of internships for local high school students and has mobilized the victims of violence in a protest staged exclusively for the film.
Renee’s volunteer interns have been leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote the coming film within their circles in anticipation of a late spring or early summer release. “I’ve seen the power of the teenager promoting something,” Renee remarked. “I’ve witnessed that.” Last summer, students helped develop her social media apparatus and started to test its abilities. The stock tactic was pasting posts to Facebook timelines. Interns packaged Renee’s information themselves, or simply blasted Reneeher pre-prepared releases.
Danielle Griffin, the social media intern and student at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, emphasized that advertisements geared for teens needed to come from teens. “If a teenager’s doing it, [other teenagers] think it might be more interesting, and it opens up eyes.” Danielle estimates that her Facebook blasts via Renee’s front-end account circulate to several hundred people. Lakeisha Woods, a summer intern who currently attends Johnson College Prep, was initially skeptical of advertising outright. “Promoting? I never did that. I’m like, ‘Okay, what is so good about promoting?’” Continued work not only convinced her of the social media project, but of the film’s personal relevance. “I thought it was something good to speak out about,” she said. Earlier in the summer of 2013, Woods lost a friend to a gang related shooting.
Working for Renee and on the set of “Deacon’s Choice” put her in a unique position to help her friend’s mother. That August, preparations were underway to orchestrate a ‘Stop the Violence’ protest to feature in the film. “Because this was a Chicago film,” said Renee, “we wanted to show how violence affects many people: classmates, teachers, friends.” Lakeisha recalled how Renee had approached the staff: “She had told everybody that we would be protesting a couple of days before.” Renee encouraged them all to contact anybody they knew who had suffered from the real ill denounced in the staged rally. “Kenya told us if we had anybody…I could tell them about this.” They were heartily welcomed onto the set.
Chicago Survivors—a group uniting family members who have’d lost their own in similar ways—showed up the day of the film shoot. Together, twelve affected motherms together joined the cast of extras. The rally itself was conducted in front of a memorial mural at the Kleo Center on East. Garfield and Michigan. The extras waved signs, made noise, and for all intents and purposes played the part. “We are so thankful to the moms,” said Renee. “It was a very touching filming day.”
The filmmaking techniques used in “Deacon’s Choice” follow themes of speaking up, of drafting a new world where public pain no longer hugs private matters. The staged rally exposed real outrages with close-striking impacts. It allowed them to be articulated in a new, productive way—, connecting victims in an artistic endeavor. This relationship closely shadows Deacon’s bid to find herself in the present and to concretely assert her own happiness. Renee’s confidence in her student interns reflects this insistent focus on unqualified goodness.
Renee remarked that many movies deliberately depict decrepit schools and that she instead wrote the classroom Deacon teaches as a better place. Danielle and Lakeisha’s internships were themselves quality narratives. Danielle felt she’d put her foot in the door, and had already started looking for contacts in the worlds of cinema and performance arts. (“I’m really…into acting and filmmaking.”) Lakeisha understands that she’ll need to promote herself, too. “I can make up flyers, or I can…call up people.”
Renee thinks that “the entire community can benefit from seeing homegrown…independent film.” And the small endeavors organized by “Deacon’s Choice” prove that the community also benefits from being included in that indie’s film’production. Their efforts have fostered new voices—letting students take control of a film company’s media trumpet, and giving local victims an event to rally around.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 12, 2014
Due to an editing error, the Hawk Filmz photo accompanying this story was incorrectly identified.