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There Goes the Hood

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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.

"Vogue!" he demands to Lunch Money, pointing a blade at his throat. Lunch complies.

"Catwalk!" he tells Chadd, who obligingly does a few turns in the briefs.

When Lunch Money snickers, Chadd asks innocently, "What? You don't like SpongeBob?"

Despite being novice actors, the boys each have great physical control and a natural, comedic timing that makes even the veterans on the set snort with laughter. They are, undeniably, charming.

"He is so good!" Silvera whispers deliciously about each of the young actors at one time or another. "He is so fuckin' good, yo!"

The boys come out of the bathroom and into the library lobby — in their underwear — to watch the take on the video monitors. Patrons stare. A librarian peeps over her glasses.

"We're in the library!" Silvera hisses. "They're going to think we're shooting a porno!" And so it goes, a long cycle of takes and breaks, of scripted laughs and organic ones, until the film finally wraps. At 4 in the morning.

Silvera swears the movie will be in theaters by February, but folks who have been in this business for a long time restrain their optimism. Cliff Charles, the director of photography, has worked on numerous jobs with Spike Lee. He's seen his share of great films get shelved, due to one Tinseltown roadblock or another. "I've learned not to have expectations," he says cautiously.

Still, everyone else dares to dream.

Lunch Money is off to make a record, Lunch Time, but he entertains visions of "G.E.D. — the series." Chadd is headed back to high school in Miramar — but looks forward to Red Rat helping him launch his music career. Stringbean is, of course, composing a résumé and getting his headshots ready. And neighborhood staple Kool-Aid is certain that after the movie hits the screen and his band comes together, "We'll be playing the Hard Rock for $7,000 a night. Instead of $700."

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Deirdra Funcheon

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