While it is reported that 1 out of 9 Black children had has a parent locked away in prison and 92% of parents in prison are fathers, the magnitude of this issue has been severely minimized and even glamorized to the general public, especially in the Black community.
Movies such as Menace II Society and Boyz In The Hood have in some way given a cinematic illustration of how the Black community has suffered from the crack epidemic, mass incarceration and gang violence. However, the presentation of these films have done more of a disservice in feeding the negative stereotypes of the Black community than being a catalyst for healthy dialogue and a way to create lasting change. There has been very few films with an honest and realistic narrative of Black fathers behind bars until recently.
In the film Never Heard, directed by the award-winning filmmaker Josh A. Webber that is based on the book I Never Heard My Father Speak by Tamera Hill, a seldom seen approach is taken to the plight of Black men, who are fathers, behind bars. While giving the viewer an intimate look from the perspectives of everyone effected; from the fatherless child to the single mother struggling to keep her home together, we see how a father’s determination to maintain himself, reconnect and restore his family is authentically captured.
Hip Hop artist David Banner who stars as “Aaron Davis”, the father incarcerated for a double homicide, maintains his innocence and struggles to be a father to his son Jalen, played by Hip Hop artist Romeo Miller, while behind bars. Along with facing a life sentence, his efforts to be a father is met with resistance from his ex-wife Shala, played by Robin Givens, who makes it very clear she wants little to do with Davis outside of demanding he do more for his son despite his circumstances.
The film takes the viewer into the heart of matters allowing for what feels like a firsthand experience from all angles. Although Never Heard is a faith-based film, viewers from every walk of life will find it easy to connect with the storyline. The range of emotions during the entire film are deep and relatable.
What is notable throughout the film is the diversity of experience each cast member brings.
There is a secondary story being told simultaneously that involves the lingering effects of the crack cocaine epidemic that ravished the Black community in the 80’s and 90’s, coupled with the Three-strikes law introduced by the Clinton administration, that further ripped families apart.
Jalen’s best friend Diggy, played by Dijon Talton, lives with his mother, played by Kandi Burruss, who is deeply addicted to crack cocaine. To provide for his mother and younger brother, Diggy is pulled into selling drugs, but eventually fails in coming up with the money that he owes his dealer Tony, play by Jackie Long. Because of his deficit, Tony gives Diggy an ultimatum: spare the life of his mother and brother in exchange for killing his best friend Jalen. And here is where the twist of events occurs that serves as the film’s climax and valley of decision for all involved.
While most films depicting the ‘hood experience lack the necessary highs after the extreme lows, Never Heard provides a real and much needed series of resolutions for the viewer to absorb. The message throughout the film is determination, atonement, growth and healing. There is even a portion dedicated to show how men released from prison can unite and go into business with one another.
Another key element that was highlighted is the truth of Black men in their vulnerable qualities. The media paints him as an angry, unruly and violent creature. However, Never Heard shows the Black male in a very real way in all of his magnificent qualities, which is loving, humble, a man connected to and of God, strong-willed and one who preserves.
This film captures the true essence of what it looks like for a Black man, struggling his way up out of the mud from a system designed to keep him down. This is a story that anyone can connect to on multiple levels, and one that can serve as a catalyst for empowerment no matter how dismal things appear.
I had the opportunity to catch up with lead star, David Banner, on the relevance of this film at a time when Black men have been made the prime target for systemic injustice and the elements that resonated with him playing this role.
David Banner: What resonated with me the most in being a part of this film was Aaron being innocent. In this world, we are guilty until proven innocent. Black men, out of any other race in America, is the most involved in his children’s life. But it is also many in the Black community who hold on to the stereotype that Black men are not present.
Ebony S. Muhammad: What was it like for you playing this particular role?
David Banner: For me to have any opportunity to be a voice for a character who is trying to save his son and clear his name, he’s fighting for his wife, his trying to prove himself to be innocent and save his manhood. I really like that aspect of the movie.
Ebony S. Muhammad: What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?
David Banner: I don’t know how God is working with them. I don’t know what you’re going through in life. Everyone has a struggle in this movie. As long as it resonates and pulls on your spirit… That what I hope; that the film in general resonates with someone’s spirit.
BONUS: David Banner made it known that he gave a subtle gesture during the film. He is offering $100 for the first viewer to catch it and post the gesture and scene to his Instagram account. Hint: “It will make you proud”.
Never Heard is premiering one day only, November 1, 2018 in select cities and theaters. To find the nearest showing in your city, be sure to visit Tickets & Location