Editor's note: A version of this story appears in the latest issue of the Norwood News, out on streets now.
By Alex Kratz
One of the great pleasures of watching “Gun Hill Road,” a new independent film by Bronx native Rashaad Ernesto Green that debuted in front of a New York audience during the first-ever Bronx Week Film Festival in mid-May, is its familiarity.
Look, there’s New Capitol diner on Kingsbridge Road and Jerome! Is he getting on the 2 train or the 4 train? Wait, isn’t that the bodega on Gun Hill Road in Norwood?
“The Bronx itself is a character,” Green said during a question-and-answer session after the screening.
While the setting, characters and dialogue all feel like the Bronx, the storyline deals with difficult topics — most notably, transgender lifestyle choices and how they play out in Latino families — that are only now starting to be discussed openly in the borough.
The history of Bronx-based film is filled with crime stories and gangster tales (think: “A Bronx Tale,” “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” or “The Wanderers”). And “Gun Hill Road,” shot entirely in the Bronx, contains some of those elements. It begins with a prison cafeteria stabbing carried out by the main character, a father played by Bronx-native Esai Morales, who has lived a life of crime.
But the heart of the story centers around how Morales’ character, having just been released from prison, deals with the discovery that his teenage son is transgender. Green, whose family has long hailed from the area around Gun Hill Road and Burke Avenue, says the story is based on a family member who dealt with issues similar to those Morales’ character deals with in the film. Although it’s not your usual Bronx “shoot-em-up” flick, one audience member said, “This is a film we in the Bronx need to see.”
When watching “Gun Hill Road” and the father’s anger about his son’s lifestyle, I kept thinking about the anti-gay hate crimes carried out last year in Morris Heights. That episode drew national attention, forced the borough to confront gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and led to a handful of Bronx “pride” marches. (On Tuesday night, there was a LGBT town hall forum at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center to discuss the very issues put forward in “Gun Hill Road.”)
This movie could be similarly impactful. In “Gun Hill Road,” we not only see the father’s struggle with these issues as a parent, but we see the son, played brilliantly by Harmony Santana, going through them first-hand. The effect is that the unfamiliar becomes familiar. This is the other great pleasure of watching “Gun Hill Road.”
The film — which has packed movie houses from Utah to Toronto (and garnered about 100 audience members in the Bronx) — is set to be released at selected theaters in early August.
Editor’s Note: For more information on this film and upcoming screenings, find “Gun Hill Road” on Facebook.