There Goes the Hood

A legendary underground filmmaker from Sistrunk surfaces to make a movie about Florida homeboys

Two white police officers sit in their car on Sistrunk, near the Bashful Arms apartments, around the corner from the Blue Goose Beer Saloon. Their lights are flashing, and they wear thick bulletproof vests that pop out from under their uniforms like life preservers. Behind black sunglasses, they look like overinflated Terminators.

But no, they are not in the movie. They just finished a real-live bust and are overseeing the confiscation of a car that is being reeled onto a tow truck.

"What is the movie about anyway?" they ask humorlessly.

Ricky LaVoir (left, as Stringbean), Gamal "Lunch Money" Lewis (as Dame), and Chadd Kerr (as Loon) are about to make their big-screen debuts.
Michael McElroy
Ricky LaVoir (left, as Stringbean), Gamal "Lunch Money" Lewis (as Dame), and Chadd Kerr (as Loon) are about to make their big-screen debuts.
Who needs film school? Director Cess Silvera (in tank top) was a natural at calling the shots.
Deirdra Funcheon
Who needs film school? Director Cess Silvera (in tank top) was a natural at calling the shots.

Told that it is a comedy in the style of Friday, one officer says dryly, "Well, they picked the right neighborhood, because this is a comedy."

Film set or not, this is still the hood, they warn. "Be careful," they say. "Hold your bag tight to your chest. Even in daylight." They have failed to get caught up in the neighborhood zeitgeist.

Some of Sistrunk's tougher real-life personalities are a hard sell as well. One muumuued lady on a balcony isn't going to let some uppity Hollywood people boss her around, no matter how nicely they ask her to get out of the shot.

"Hey, beautiful! I'm beggin' you!" Silvera yells to her. When she doesn't budge, he expertly dispatches a crew member to strike up a conversation with her, so even if she's in the frame, at least she won't be staring at the camera.

Local kids and families gather around the steps of a housing complex. One man takes advantage of these invaders from L.A. and peddles mangoes for $1 apiece. A 13-year-old girl watches from the hood of a car. She can't wait to see the movie — but she breaks the news that in real life, there aren't really any skaters in Sistrunk.

Then comes a voice: "Bloodclaaaaat!"

Anyone familiar with Jamaican curse words knows that bloodclaat — or its cousin, bumbaclaat — is an insult you utter only when you want to get your ass beat or your mouth washed out with soap. (For literal meaning, refer to a used tampon.)

"Bloodclaaaaat!" a skinny Rasta dude yells as he zooms down the street on an old-school silver moped, chasing Stringbean, Lunch Money, and Chadd on their skateboards. Spectators laugh at the sight — ridiculous and awesome at the same time. The man on the moped sports a crocheted red, yellow, and green hat on his head, his crinkly hair puffing out the back in a ponytail. He wears silly red boots, a bright green shirt, and — the kicker — a neckerchief.

A girl watching the scene drops her jaw and says of his outfit: "Are you serious?"

The Rasta dude turns out to be Red Rat, a dancehall star famous for bouncy songs in which he often hollers "Oh no!!!" in a trademark ridiculous/awesome style, as in his 1997 hit "Shelly Anne." Silvera wrote the role of bad guy Willie Red specifically for him. When Red Rat jumps off his moped to chase the boys, he runs after them with a funny high-step, pumping his arms.

"That's exactly how I run for real!" he laughs later. "I'm a track star."

Red Rat admires Silvera's decision to film in Sistrunk. "Love of the ghetto," he says. He's made new friends here, like the tiny wisp of a girl who has been hanging around the set since filming began.

Kristal Church, 18, lives across the street from the production office. She was surprised that anyone would want to make a film in her neighborhood, which is bad, she concedes — although not as bad as some people think. Drug dealers operate in plain sight, no doubt, but shootings happen usually "only on holidays."

Church has been going to school for business administration, but a whole new world opened up to her when the makeup artists and Red Rat took her under their wing and Silvera let her dance in the movie — during a nighttime party scene for which practically the whole neighborhood came out and got to be in the background. Now Church is thinking big time: clothing line, film career. "I'm gonna be the one to say 'Lock it up!' "

As if on cue, Frankel announces that they nailed the scene. Red Rat swamps her in a hug.

Stringbean is worn out from the long day. He picks up his skateboard. "Was that shot good?" he asks. All right then. "Where's my check?"

"One movie and you're already a diva," Chadd says.

The next day, Chadd waddles around the African-American Research Library as though he's in pain. He drops his jeans to reveal why — he's wearing a way-too-small pair of little boys' tighty whities with SpongeBob SquarePants on them.

"They're size 8!" he howls.

It's the last day of shooting. The cast has taken over the library to use as a film set, although it's still open for regular business. Patrons come and go curiously, wondering why there is a camera crew cramped around the bathroom.

In the scene, Red Rat's character, Willie Red, has just robbed someone. He runs into a public bathroom to freshen up; the three boys hide from him in a stall. Willie Red is washing up in a cartoonish way — he smells his armpits and stuffs his hand down the front of his pants for a good scrubbing — when one of the boys drops a skateboard. Willie Red detects them and, at knifepoint, forces them to strip down to their undies. He makes them dance.

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