Akilla’s Escape the latest feature by Charles Officer stars Saul Williams as Akilla Brown, a man who unexpectedly walks into a drug heist gone wrong. Akilla captures ones of young men involved in the heist, Sheppard (Thamela Mpulmwana), and is soon forced to make a choice… give Sheppard up to the powers that be, or help him out of this cycle of violence.
Co-written by Officer and Wendy Motion Brathwaite, they have created a character story within a crime noir paradigm that spans three countries. It begins with the rising of Jamaican gang culture in the 1970s, moves to New York City, later Toronto, where over 450,000 Jamaicans reside. Across these three countries, we learn about the various generations of Black men who have been forced to grow up in an environment of corruption, violence, and trauma.
Over the course of one night, Akilla has to confront a cycle of violence he thought he had left behind. The appearance of Sheppard tilts Akilla’s world upside down. The film then takes on a journey through past and present in order to better understand how each of these characters arrived to this moment in time.
Throughout the film, Officer uses the noir genre tropes: a robbery gone bad, a man with a mission, and a climactic standoff that may in tragedy as Akilla must make a choice at the end of night and the start of a new day.
Williams’ strong screen presence is perfectly matched to Akilla’s personality and strength of character. Mpulmwana, who plays the younger Akilla and Sheppard in present time, is impressive in the level of maturity and charisma whenever he appears on screen.
Their characters are supported by a super talented cast; including Oluniké Adeliyi as Sheppard’s mother, Ronnie Rowe Jr. as Sheppard’s father, Donisha Pendergast as Sheppard’s aunt, Vic Mensa as one of Akilla’s allies, and many others who are easily recognizable to Canadian audiences.
The entire cast, original music composed by Williams and Massive Attack‘s Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, cinematrophy by Maya Bankovic; the entire production all comes together to create a powerful story that speaks to the historical criminalization of Black boys often overlooked by modern society.
Prior to the film’s premiere at TIFF, I had the pleasure of discussing the film and the importance of telling this story with Charles Officer, as well as, with Thamela Mpulmwana and Saul Williams.