Dana Flor, Toby Oppenheimer
Free screening of Check It. Co-curated by local filmmaker, activist, and oracle Dawne Langford!
At first glance, they seem unlikely gang-bangers. Some of the boys wear lipstick and mascara, some stilettos. They carry Louis Vuitton bags, but they also carry knives, brass knuckles and mace. As vulnerable gay and transgender youth, they’ve been shot, stabbed, and raped.
Once victims, they’ve now turned the tables, beating people into comas and stabbing enemies with ice picks. Started in 2009 by a group of bullied 9th graders, today these 14-22 year old gang members all have rap sheets riddled with assault, armed robbery and drug dealing charges.
Led by an ex-convict named Mo, Check It members are now creating their own clothing label, putting on fashion shows and working stints as runway models. But breaking the cycle of poverty and violence they’ve grown up in is a daunting task.
Life for the Check It can be brutal, but it’s also full of hope and an indomitable resilience. At its heart, CHECK IT explores the undying friendship that exists between these kids – an unbreakable bond that is tested every day as they fight to stand up for who they are in a community relentlessly trying to beat them down.
When we tell people about the Check It, almost everyone says: “How could this be?” That, too, was our response when we first met the gang and it’s one of the reasons that made us want to make this film. It IS hard for us to understand how kids in the nation’s capital can grow up in abject poverty, be bullied, abused, thrown out of school, forced to band together for protection and, ultimately, sell themselves on the streets to survive. Even more unbelievable to us is the setting itself: the Check It constantly gather to steal, fight, and prostitute literally a few blocks from the White House. They operate in the shadows of the emblem of all the hopes and dreams America has to offer while the Check It, in many ways, embodies many of its biggest failures.
CHECK IT is that increasingly rare, all-access journey into an American subculture that has barely, if ever, been acknowledged, much less a centerpiece for a thoughtful, clear eyed documentary. We strongly believe that the hidden world of the gang and the complex social issues that they wrestle with needs widespread illumination.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the African American community has largely
condemned homosexuality, forcing many deeper into the closet. This has helped create a public
health emergency with astounding statistics: black gay men under 30 now have HIV rates on par
with sub-Saharan Africa and are infected 50% higher than their white counterparts. Specifically, Washington, D.C. has the highest rate of HIV in the country, making it the epicenter of the AIDS crisis in the United States. The Check It kids embody this disaster. Many consider prostitution as their only option and too many are HIV-positive.
We live in an age where gay bashing worldwide is increasingly met with zero tolerance, but in
the Check It’s neighborhoods and those like it, it happens with mind-numbing regularity and no
media coverage. The Check It is one small gang in one city, but it reflects a national issue. Being gay in poor, violent African-American neighborhoods carries a dangerous stigma. For the Check It and those like them, standing up for who they are is more than an issue of gay pride—it’s risking their lives. While these kids are often living on the edge of danger—ultimately, their story – this story – is a universal one about hope and redemption against all odds.
- 2/27 | 8:00PM