The Least Among You
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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After his false arrest during the 1965 Watts Riots, Richard Kelly, played by Cedric Sanders of American Gangster, finds himself serving probation at an all-white seminary where he is faced with racism, isolation, verbal and mental abuse, and lack of support.
He tries to rally up his fellow students to sign a petition to present to the board that would increase the recruitment efforts for both black students and faculty members. But he’s met with opposition, and in the end this opposition comes in the form of the school president, Dr. Alan Beckett, played by William Devane, who was initially cordial and accommodating to Kelly but changes his tune when his learns that his big budget ideas are being threatened.
Inspired by a true story, the emotionally charged film showcases Sanders, as he delivers a heartfelt performance in a role that examines the hard lines of race, perseverance, courage and determination. Lauren Holley plays a thick-skinned instructor who is hesitant to assist Kelly when he first asks for help. Just when Kelly reaches his breaking point, he finds an unlikely mentor who helps motivate and guide him. Lou Gossett plays the unlikely mentor, and it is a powerful role for the veteran actor. Gossett plays Samuel Benton, the gardener in the basement, who once worked for the college. Benton has carved himself out an education; by keeping his ears open and reading the discarded books from the college library.
Even with Benton’s nurturing, Kelly is drawn to his old neighborhood on a regular basis; he sees his mother needing costly dialysis and tries to figure out a way to support her medical needs. However, he runs into the wrong crowd and is implicated in a shooting that, if proven, would terminate his probation and send him to jail. He soon undergoes a transformation that forces him to choose between his dreams and his destiny.
This movie, while set in 1965, echoes similar choices between young, black men today, I think. On one hand, education is the answer and the way out of impoverished situations that span the country from the west coast to the east coast. On the other hand, without the proper guidance, young men are left to their own devices, even if they are enrolled in college. It takes much to steer them in the right direction, so that the choice is obvious—stick to your dreams and don’t give up. But Kelly was stuck with more than just making a decision to keep his nose in his books; he was challenged daily with obstacles that shouldn’t have been there, but for the segregation of the era.
The Least Among You is produced by Julia Verdin, one of Hollywood’s leading independent producers, and directed and written by Mark Young. Verdin was inspired to make The Least Among You because of its strong positive message, emphasizing that we all should have the courage to follow our convictions. One must go deep to find out who one is. It is a beautiful story of mentorship, and finding one’s own personal faith, she says. “One reason I went into filmmaking was to make a difference, and one of my company’s goals is to make some films that enhance good values and social consciousness. This one fell under that brief,” said Verdin. Indeed it does, the movie is great storytelling and great lessons in “doing the right thing, no matter what.”
The Least Among You DVD contains special features that include interviews with the real Richard Kelly (Rev. Dr. Charles Marks), Editor Omar Daher and Music Composer Mark Kilian, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes. For more information on the film, please visit Web site www.theleastamongyou.com
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor writer and film critic in Chicago.
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