Gang culture has been part of New York City’s narrative for decades with various factions coming into play. In the independent film FIVE STAR James “Primo” Grant, a member of the notorious Bloods since he was 12 years old, uses his life experience as the basis for a gripping drama about manhood and making hard choices.
“I was a bartender at 12. Pouring Smirnoff and orange juice for my father and his friends. Running to the store getting six-packs and playing Lotto,” Grant tells WatchLOUD.com of his childhood before joining The Bloods. “I was doing things a 12-year-old kid should never do. I love my mother to death but I gotta be honest, me and my mother didn’t have the best relationship. She didn’t tell me she loved me until the age of 21. I don’t remember her giving me a hug. My father was there and he was a strict dude. ‘Wake up and fold them sheets, iron your uniform.’ But as kids sometimes you rebel because you wanna be a kid. I wanna go play. I couldn’t go outside and play. I had to ask to leave the stoop. It was embarrassing. I ain’t wanna hear it no more. I met up with a couple of guys. They brought me home and I still say with pride to this day it was one of the best choices I made in my life. It all aligned to me being here, so I can never call it a mistake. It was my choice, and today I just make the choice to do things better.”
Directed by Keith Miller, FIVE STAR features Grant and screen newbie John Diaz as they navigate a tale of betrayal and redemption. Set in East New York, FIVE STAR blends documentary and fictional storytelling as director Keith Miller carefully avoids worn clichés of gang culture to offer a compelling portrait of two men forced to confront the question of what it really means to be a man.
Here are 5 things you should know from the men involved.
How it all began…
Me and Keith met through a mutual friend of ours Shanon Harper, he was shooting a gang-banging documentary and we shot that and over the course of time we Got together over the course of time. We had the concept for the movie beforehand and incorporated things that happened with me. Had an audition at met this talented young man here and formulated a family and began on this project.
Keith Miller, Director
We first met in 2010 and then I think we started doing auditions in 2012 and shot part of it in 2013 and premiered it in 2014. I was hanging out with Shanon Harper and he was the lead in my last film Welcome to Pine Hill. We were hanging out and he asked if he wanted to meet this guy. We met and filmed an hour long conversation that we edited down to a two-minute piece called “GangBanging 101.” I’d been thinking about what it means to be a man and that kind of story, and through that conversation we clicked. Primo liked that short piece and I thought he’d be great on camera. He’s thoughtful, tough and vulnerable all at once and we talked about collaborating and went forward with it.
I just knew Keith was doing a movie and he was good friends with a director I knew and they called for auditions for a young kid. I met Keith and Primo and we connected off the bat. Keith knew I could do it but at the time I was scared shitless. They really digged me and it started working. People are intimidated by him but I just went up to him and started talking. I do come from a rough neighborhood but I’m chill and I brought that to the table. You can’t try to act tough. I’m just myself. I won’t backdown from anybody. I’m not a fighter but I won’t let you punk me.
It’s a story about family…
Primo: Much power and respect to my beautiful wife. Thank you Keith for allowing my family to be involved in the film. My children. It helped. For me, first time acting it’s hard to show emotions to a female that’s not your wife, and with the kids. It doesn’t feel real. Having my kids involved…that’s how it is in my house. [A scene in the kitchen] My wife is still trying to get my recipes to this day. It kept it comfy and calm, at peace. It was regular for me.
It’s fiction based in reality…
The whole movie is scripted. Keith incorporated certain memories that I have, like the opening scene, not being there for my son, being incarcerated. It put together certain things between the two worlds of reality and fiction and meshed it into a beautiful piece of art. This kinda [thing] does happen every day, but maybe not. Hats off to Keith.
The title is 5 Star. What catches everyone with this film is you hear the definition in the synopsis: A 5-Star general, member of The Bloods active in the movie and in real life. It’s true. I am still active, in the movie and real life. So who better to give you that authenticity? Who better to give you these experiences? And if you can deal with someone who has been there, done that, sold the drugs, given you that inside look. But then also see the behind the scenes. I love my kids. I’d never show my kids the stern monster that the streets would see. You get to see the loving father who cares, the hard working man who is making that transition from being the monster outside doing things the wrong way with those consequences trying to move over to this side where things are harder, because you’re doing things the right way. That’s what Keith is showing you in this film. That’s what’s happening even today in my life. I gotta daughter on the way and with everything happening I want to keep showing the world you have an option, set your own path.
This is not a “Money and Violence” copy cat…
Primo: We’ve been compared to “Money and Violence” and we’ve been compared to “The Wire” and it’s an honor. Much respect to those shows. Everyone’s going out there and trying to do what they do. They gotta beautiful thing going.
John: We wish them the best of luck because it has to work for somebody and somebody has to display what’s really going on in these streets. It may not be them or 5 Star but these things are opening the doors. Young kids are looking at me thinking they can do a movie now. If we keep progressing with this it’ll keep getting better and better.
It’s not a gangster film…
John: Don’t go into this moving thinking you’re gonna get a Blood gangster movie because that’s not what we’re into. We’re not promoting gang violence and kids joining gangs. It’s a situation of manhood. Everybody has a choice. It’s a movie about choices. For me personally it’s an honor to be a part of his story but it’s also yours and my story. I don’t want people to forget that. He’s not the only person going through this. Everyone goes through struggle. He’s not a gang member, not a Blood, just a person.
Primo: [Don’t] just look at the name on it. We’re not a gang, we’re a brotherhood. In college you got guys getting drunk and do dumb shit and they call it a fraternity all day. So don’t judge everyone by the stereotype that has been left behind by ignorant acts of violence. We have families that we want to go home to and people that love us as well. There are positive acting members and associates that work 9-to-5 jobs. Your doctor or surgeon or NYPD officer just might be affiliated because of a choice he made (in the past). Live life love and learn.
5 STAR is available now on VOD