As we reported on Friday, running through June 19th in New York City is the 27th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The fest continues to bring New York City audiences a select topical feature films that grapple with the global struggles toward defending human rights.
Of salient increased attention is the trauma and after affects of the United States prison system, which disproportionately incarcerates Black men and women, most often with longer sentences than their White crime counterparts. The ongoing legacy of the Black community and the prison system would take a long time to cover, but in the new film Chapter & Verse by filmmaker Jamal Joseph, known primarily as a former member of the Black Panther Party in New York City and one of the infamous Panther 21 (alongside Afeni Shakur and Dhoruba Bin Wahad, among notable others) – accused of conspiracy to blow up the New York Botanical Gardens and other places in NYC, and acquitted over two years later but becoming political prisoners and targets for life – a formerly incarcerated man faces a strange new life upon returning home.
Jailed for over eight years, we meet Lance (Daniel Beatty) as he searches for, but is constantly turned down, employment as a computer technician. Constrained by life in a halfway house, it isn’t until he begins to work in a food bank that his eyes open to a Harlem much different from the one he left – gang violence (of a different kind), gentrification, and good ol’ American racism. However, as he slowly re-indoctrinates himself to life Uptown, including connecting with old friend and former hustler Jomo (Omari Hardwick, Middle of Nowhere) and meeting Miss Maddy (Loretta Divine, NBC’s The Carmichael Show and so much more), a cheeky older woman to whom he delivers daily dinners and soon strikes up a friendship, does Lance begin to find hope for the future.
Though Miss Maddy’s eventual sweet nature is a catalyst, it is mostly through her teenage grandson Ty (Khadim Diop) that Lance sees how he can impact his immediate world. With no real family of his own, Lance slowly becomes welcome into Miss Maddy’s own, and struggles to be a ‘big brother’ to Ty’s wayward teenage sensibility. While most of the relationships established in the film are strong, it is the bond between former wild man Lance and young Ty that truly works best.
Divine is usually irreverent in most of her roles, and brings a solid spirit to Chapter & Verse, but this film does not stray from Lance’s deep dark eyes which obviously hold deep resentment, but are capable of so much more. The climax of the film is truly harrowing and reflects the dire circumstances that people who feel incarcerated in their own communities must contend with. The film consistently has this pathos running under the drama that unfolds.
Hardwick is as charming as ever as the somewhat comic relief of the film, as is the always acerbic Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black’s Gloria) as food bank owner Yolanda who puts Lance in both responsibility-building and compromising positions.
As part of a spectacular lineup of engrossing films, Chapter & Verse remains a main go-to in the impressive list. See it this Sunday at 5:00pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. A Q&A with director Jamal Joseph follows the screening.
CHAPTER & VERSE
Sunday, June 12, 5:00 pm
Film Society of Lincoln Center
+ Q&A with filmmaker Jamal Joseph
See more at: https://ff.hrw.org/film/chapter-verse
- 25th Anniversary of ‘the Panther 21’ (1996)
- Black Panther Party pictures (1969)
- Jamal Joseph Interview (NPR) for his memoir “Panther Baby”
- BOOK: “Panther Baby”
- Jamal Joseph official