Boyz out of the hood
Review: The Boys of Baraka
The Boys of Baraka opens in the Baltimore projects with what look like clips from a badly filmed episode of Cops. It's obviously not a great place to grow up and we're told 76 percent of African American boys there don't graduate from high school.
Some boys get a chance to beat those 3-1 odds. Each year, 20 boys from Baltimore are chosen to go to Kenya , East Africa , for a two-year program at Baraka, an all-male boarding school. The criteria aren't mentioned but the 12-13-year-olds selected are obviously not the most hardcore; they're probably the ones who would have been most likely to succeed anyway, but removing them from their negative environment certainly helps.
We meet Richard, 13, whose father is in prison. He sounds intelligent and motivated, although we later discover he has a learning disorder that has gone undetected. He's concerned about his younger brother, Romesh, who is also accepted in the program.
Devon , 12, is an angry child whose mother has been on and off drugs all his life so he's mostly been raised by his grandmother. He's wanted to be a preacher since he was little and he has a gift for preaching. Montrey, also 12, wants to be a chemist but his big mouth and volatile personality frequently get him into trouble.
At Baraka, the headmaster notes, boys who were forced to grow up too fast get a chance to be kids. They have problems at Baraka but their schoolwork improves. Perhaps more importantly they see African people, poor and black like them, treating each other with respect and without violence.
We don't see much of their course work, just videos and phone calls exchanged with folks back home, sightseeing and disciplinary problems that create drama.
The documentary, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, is far from an unqualified success, or an unqualified success story, even for the boys who go to Baraka. Despite setbacks, the future looks promising for at least some of them but no solutions are offered for boys with no way out of their ghettos.
Some parents ask why a version of the program can't be implemented in Baltimore , but the board of education isn't likely to think that far out of the box. It's easier to raise money for law enforcement than education.
The story could be told better but The Boys of Baraka is valuable for the ray of hope it offers as a record of an interesting experiment.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.
The Boys of Baraka
Rating: (3 out of 4)
Directed by: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Starring: Devon Brown, Darius Chambers, Richard Keyser, Justin Mackall, Montrey Moore, Romesh Vance
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