BALTIMORE'S VISIONARY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE
By Belinda Trotter-James
Derick Thomas now Derick Prince always wanted to be a filmmaker. As a kid he was inspired by the actor Robert Guillaume; you may best know him on the hit television show Benson. At the age of six he has always been a fan of television and it just unfolded into the film-making business when he was a teenager. That’s when he finally got a chance to explore all aspects of film-making. “At the age of six there were not a lot of us on television and television influences children which is one of the reasons why we have so many bad influences today, but that’s another story,” says Derick. “Robert Guillaume was intelligent, articulate, he had power, he had persuasion plus he was the guy who had everything and at six years old I watched him and thought, ‘I can do that.’ He was just a great role model for that time.”
When I asked what was he like as a child, he laughed and responded, “I would say as a kid I was not mischievous or a bad kid; I think I was more insightful and quiet. I guess I’m the same way today, but I think I was just a regular boy. My mother would tell you that I was high energy. I wouldn’t just walk down the street with her; I would be doing a cartwheel down the street beside her. She always thought I was full of energy and everybody always thought I was crazy wild. I was always doing something and making funny faces. I was always the clown in the house.” Derick swears it wasn’t sugar that kept him bouncing off the walls. “I think it was just my personality,” recalls Derick. I had a lot of fun with all my girlfriends. I could always make them laugh. I don’t let the world see that side of me; only the women in my life get to see that because they are close to me.”
Derick was born and raised in Baltimore so he gets to see first hand all the riots and anger from the residents because of the injustices taking place in that area and in various cities around the world. He is not too far from the action. “Actually the house I purchased with my mother years ago is right around the corner from the mall,” says Derick. “She was concerned because she still lives there.” Derick reveals that the area is not a bad area however, the concerns of the people are about the haves and the have-nots. “Kids would have fights all the time for years and it never made it to television,” says Derick.
The general atmosphere of the situation in Baltimore is that society has given up on them and would like to see them disappear one by one. When the world shows you that they, the powers that be or whoever don’t care about you, then the world becomes a stranger or even the enemy. When one starts to feel that everyone around them is the enemy, then the world becomes a dangerous place.
“What’s happening with the kids in Baltimore is that they have had enough of seeing their brothers being shot down,” says Derick. “Kids don’t think about the consequences like adults do. They react emotionally to what’s happening in the world and kids can see injustice. All these things that are happening in Baltimore were started by high-schoolers. They were the ones who organized it. The story is that the police was monitoring the kids before they got out of school to prevent rioting, marching or whatever and the police were getting prepared. But if you notice the kids did not riot for Trayvon Martin, they didn’t riot for Eric Garner and you have to wonder why they weren’t rioting. Why? Because they have seen national news again and again and again with incidence after incidence of what seems to be these white police officers who have been sworn in to serve African Americans killing unarmed black men and it rings of injustice to these kids and they are not having it. They are not having it in Ferguson and they are not having it in Baltimore. It was a powder cake ready to explode. They have had enough and it was the children who started this.”
There is a common theme to Derick’s films that is relate-able to the things that are happening in the streets of Baltimore that can be seen as marginalized, disenfranchised grief. “You’re talking about young boys who are on the verge of becoming men and basically they have been locked out of society,” says Derick. “I’m a black man who grew up in this city and I’ve experience different instances of racism. If you’re a black man in this country, you will experience racism. Chris Rock has been pulled over three or four times. So when you have young men in this city, they can’t get jobs because maybe people don’t like the way they dress, the way they look, the way they sound or think that they are a threat or will rob them or steal and don’t want to hire them and for the most part these kids are not getting jobs. They’re struggling out there and they are falling off by the wayside. The producer of The Wire, David Simon said it best when he said, ‘You’re talking about a system that doesn’t need them.’ So you have a lot of inner city people who are falling in the cracks of America.”
Most of Derick’s films deal with this very issue of youth who feel marginalized and disenfranchised or very close to it. His first film in 2006 was Charm City,
which is about the epidemic of the older black men in America who are trying to lift themselves up in challenging situations. Raising Wolves deals with the problems in the African American community, Blue Light City is a cop drama that deals with gang culture and corruption and how power corrupts everyone eventually. “My films are about the black male experience. Charm City is about the older black male experience. Raising Wolves is timelier because it talks about a few problems in the African American community. You have youth that are fallen to the wayside and are following in the footsteps of the older men or trying to make money by selling drugs and trying to find ways to survive and they have dreams, but they don’t necessarily know how to pursue those dreams. You also have a climate of homosexuality and women are taking the male roles, which is really interesting. That’s a whole different story. We did not concentrate on that, but we did show that there is a development of a strong force of women who have taken on male roles in African American families.”
This is not the generation of kids we saw years ago. “In Raising Wolves the kids are more smarter, they are more intelligent, they are less fearful and more fearless and are willing to do what it takes to get their point across and you saw that with the riot and they were not afraid of the police,” explains Derick. “One thing you realize is that those kids learned from those in the Middle East not to be afraid of the police. That was classic behavior they learned from watching the news; their anger against the police… They learned how to do that from the news and television when they were rioting.” I did notice people throwing bottled water. We don’t have many dirt roads with an abundance of rocks therefore, bottled water or whatever they could find is their choice of weapons.
Even though Derick’s films have common themes of life in the hood and the struggle to survive they are not loosely based on his life. “No, I’m a good boy,” laughs Derick. “I just watched from a distance. I always told my mother I was there just to be a reporter and observer. God put me in that place to watch. I’ve always known I was going to make movies one day. It wasn’t any surprise to me what I was doing there. I knew I was there to learn. There were oftentimes where I would be mischievous, but I learned how to have a rough edge being in the hood. It was good learned behavior because some of the people or personalities I have in my film, I have come across. Stories that I’ve heard I’ve never been involved in any of those activities of the hood, but I heard and learned and seen so many things that it’s been easy for me to write these stories.”
Since 2006 Derick has been producing films through his company DA Vision Pictures. In today’s world some feel it’s their mission to document the world in which they live or the world they see. Some people always want to slap the title of mentor, role model, or duty to society on the backs of society’s creators. On the other hand the artists or creators feel it’s just a form of how they express themselves with no expectation. They just do what they do because they love it. “I don’t know if it’s our duty, but it most certainly seems to be more of a serendipity feeling as if you were placed here to be a voice for that era,” says Derick. “They say that one of Jay Z greatest assets is that he was able to give you an eye into that hood life and made it more relate-able to everybody and I think that’s what key artists do. It’s like they have some way of being able to share their voice and give you the ability to be able to see their perspective of their experience in a unique way that really resonates with people. So to a certain extent I would say it’s like a God given opportunity; almost like you were ordained to tell that story.”
“You are more immensely powerful than what you think,” says Derick. These were golden nuggets of wisdom given to a group of school children when Derick was asked to give some words of encouragement. “That is not just for the youth,” explains Derick. “Its for every one and all the worries of the world really don’t hold a hell of beans to the amount of focus that can turn your life around in a matter of seconds if you were to give it all to an idea or a mission. I think the youth especially have a great amount of enthusiasm, energy and they have a future and we don’t want them to waste it getting involved in activities that can some how change their future. We want them to be great citizens of this great society to contribute and give back and the only way they are going to do that is to find something they are passionate about and pursue their goals, dreams, desires and really take a hold of their life and the only way they are going to be able to do that is to find someone to show them how to do it. And I think that’s where we come in… schools come in, teachers come in. If I didn’t have the ‘village’ to step in at different moments of my life to steer me in the right direction...” Derick stopped short of finishing his sentence however, each one of us reading this can add hundreds of our own endings to his sentence.
“Jon Stewart said Baltimore was burning long before the riots began and he was absolutely right. It’s a shame that it took a riot for people to see the disenfranchise… the baggy pants, the out of work youth stuck home with his mother and you hear comments from other races who call them monkeys and savages because they are out there rioting. They are out there rioting because they feel hopeless. Not only are they being killed, but also they are in a world where people are showing them that they don’t give a damn about them or their lives. I always tell people that the most dangerous word in the world is….. inequality. That label has been slapped on African American men around the world. When you look at us across the board… across the planet, we are in a dire situation. We are in a rough spot when it comes to trying to mobilize our youth in Baltimore city. They need jobs, they need training, they need to be nurtured, they need to be loved and it’s a systemic problem when you have out of work, unemployed African American men that are untrained for no workforce. It’s not everybody, but it’s enough of them where it’s causing a problem. They are rioting because the police are shooting unarmed black men across this country and people are tired of it. The rioting and looting continues because of the disenfranchise of the situation. People want to know why are you looting in your own neighborhood? Well white people loot in their own neighborhood. White people don’t come into African American neighborhoods to riot. When white people riot, they riot in their own neighborhood. When black people riot, they riot in their neighborhood. White people don’t come in black people neighborhoods and black people don’t go in white people's neighborhood to riot. It would be a race war if that happened.”
“They are trying to get a leg up and they don’t care if it’s a free soda. Of course there are opportunist out there. We know it and recognize it, but at the end of the day there are opportunities where people will take advantage of all types of situations. At the center of it all we are talking about out of work, unemployed, disenfranchised people who feel this society and system is unfair and don’t care about them so they rebel. As terrible as this whole situation looks, it may be trans-formative. The government may have to take a look at this and say what can we do to prevent this because it’s a powder cake that’s getting ready to explode.”
Derick is a part of a canvas that creates a way people can understand each other through film. Film-making allows stories to be told to a captive audience who must sit and listen without being interrupted by anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness and any other negative emotional feeling that comes to mind. Derick enjoys being the storyteller and collaborating with other creative people. “The most wonderful thing of it all is when you can take someone and put them on film and then watch them look at themselves. You can see them see themselves in all of their glory. That makes my heart smile. I’ve done that so many times in my life. I get joy out of seeing people see their dreams come true. It’s wonderful to see people in all their glory!”
Yes, it’s a light bulb moment. Fans can find Derick A. Thomas at http://www.davisionentertainment.com/ and his films in stores and on various platforms such as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, His social media links are …
Facebook: DA Vision Entertainment,
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