A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that For Ahkeem is a 2017 documentary showing the struggles of an African-American teen girl trying to graduate from high school in the inner city of St. Louis. Themes of institutional racism, injustice, teen pregnancy, and lack of economic opportunity in American inner cities are highlighted. Daje, the primary subject of the documentary, is sent to an alternative high school after getting into a fight at her old school. Her boyfriend tries to get into the construction field but deals drugs to make money, and is shown facing down two terms of probation after pleading guilty to criminal charges. The teen couple's baby, Ahkeem, is born soon after. There's occasional profanity, including "f--k" and variations and the "N" word. The documentary takes place during the events of Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the police killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots. This documentary reveals the vast challenges faced by so many in inner city America, in a system deliberately designed to work against the people who live there.
What's the story?
In FOR AHKEEM, 17-year-old Daje Shelton is sent to an alternative high school after disciplinary issues in her old high school in a marginalized neighborhood in north St. Louis, four miles away from Ferguson, Missouri. As she struggles to acclimate to her new school, she attends the funerals of friends who were killed, and has difficulties at home with her mother, with whom she has a loving but often argumentative relationship. She meets Antonio, falls in love with him, and becomes pregnant. As she gives birth to Ahkeem, Antonio faces two criminal charges and possible incarceration as he's trying to get his life in order and get into the construction field. As this happens, Michael Brown is killed in Ferguson, and the tensions in the area between African-Americans and the police are past the boiling point. While all this is happening, Daje looks at her beautiful baby boy and faces the terrible realization that while the world might think he's a cute little baby right now, they're going to think something else entirely when he starts to get older.
Is it any good?
This is a timely and important documentary about individuals and a community struggling to survive. In one of For Ahkeem's more moving and poignant scenes, 17-year-old Daje Shelton and her boyfriend, Antonio, are hanging out by the Gateway Arch in their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Expecting their first child, they face the Mississippi River and talk about if they would live anyplace else besides St. Louis. Daje suggests Hawaii, to which Antonio jokingly responds about how he can't surf because he's black. The takeaway overall is both an incomprehensibility and awareness of living anyplace else but where they live, in the marginalized neighborhoods of north St. Louis. It reveals so much in mere minutes about the movie's overall themes of institutional racism and economic injustice as Daje, Antonio, and everyone else in the documentary struggle to keep their heads above water in a system clearly skewed against them in many ways.
Classroom posters of Barack Obama on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and faded murals of 2008 "Hope"-era Barack Obama on long-abandoned storefronts symbolize the maddening lack of progress in the racism that has been a part of America since its very inception. And as Daje attends funerals of peers who were killed on the streets, and Antonio must face the criminal justice system, Ahkeem himself becomes a kind of symbol. This is revealed as Daje tells her little baby that while he might be seen as cute to the world right now, the world will not be so kind in a matter of years.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries. How does For Ahkeem compare to other documentaries you've seen?
What are some of the themes and subjects revealed in this documentary, and how are they addressed?
How do you think documentary filmmakers create the level of trust required to film the most intimate moments of those they're filming?
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