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Movie Review: Know How
Real foster kids tell their stories onscreen
Jazmine Gibbs
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Know How, a movie that tells the stories of five teenagers in care, is based on the real lives of youth from the Possibility Project, a nonprofit performing arts organization.

The Possibility Project does several plays a year featuring youth, ages 15-20, who have experienced the foster care system. They all come together and share their experiences in foster care, and then they turn those experiences into plays. The youth perform in those plays, but they never play themselves. Besides writing and performing, the kids also sing, dance, and rap -- the plays are musicals. Their first movie, Know How, is based on one of these plays and features actual youth in care. It's directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza.

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The movie recognizes that everyone has a different struggle. Eva (played by Gabrielle Garcia) and Desi (Ainsley Henry) are sisters who are under stress after the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) inspects their home and finds their father’s illegal drugs. Marie (Ebonee Simpson) is dealing with the death of her grandmother while in a group home and Addie (Niquana Clark) lives with her aunt after her mother’s death. Marie moves in with Addie and her aunt temporarily. The other two main characters are Megan (Claribelle Pagan) and Austin (Gilbert Howard).

Megan's Story of Speaking Up

In the beginning of the movie an ACS worker knocks on the door of Megan’s home because she told her teacher about her abusive household. Megan’s stepfather is arrested for sexual abuse and her mother is arrested for physical abuse. Megan and her sister (Lee Jiminez) are sent to the ACS building. Most kids in the New York City foster care system have gone to that madhouse to wait for permanent placement.

Megan is the target in fights at the building, which leads her into sadness and anxiety. Then she and her sister are separated when Megan is placed in a group home, where she doesn’t talk to anyone. Her roommate and the roommate’s two followers ask her why she’s there, and when she doesn’t want to tell them, they decide they don’t like her. She asks the group home supervisor to be moved to a different room. The supervisor, indifferent to Megan’s emotions, tells her, “We did not ask to have you here.”

The three girls bully her and call her a slut, even as she’s trying to cope with the abuse she suffered in her mother’s home. Megan tells another girl that she takes Seroquel and Abilify (psychotropic medications that can make you very sleepy). The girl shows her a clever way to hide the medication under the tongue. So Megan begins hiding the pills so she can take more than prescribed at one time to numb her emotional pain.

I have never been in a residential treatment center but I could relate to her struggles with the medications she was given. One of the things about the system is that they often give you medication that will help you cope but can be addicting.

During her supervised visit with her sister, Megan shows little interest in interacting with her. You could tell the group home was breaking her. The three bullies keep tormenting her, and she finally confronts them. She is clearly enraged. Their saying that they’re “just playing” pisses her off even more and leads to a major fight. Then the group home supervisor tells the court that Megan should stay for further examination.

Megan tells the judge that she is tired, that she is constantly bullied, and that the group home is not helping her get better. She says she would feel so much better if she could live with her younger sister. I figured that she would be kept in the group home, but luckily the judge is on her side. She ends up going to the home with her sister in the last scene.

Though it surprised me that she didn’t have to stay in the group home, the fact that she talked to the judge in a straightforward manner does show that you don’t have to expect the worse in family court. Speaking up can have a positive impact on your placement. I like that this story paints the reality of someone who is trying to move forward from a painful situation and is aware of what they need.

Austin's Story of Peer Pressure

Many teens need their best friend, their “Day One.” Austin (played by Gilbert Howard) is a homeless teen who wants to be safe. However you could tell that he can’t be in the steer alone without his bro. Many youth, including myself, feel the need to have a friend along with us through the roughest times. So we end up doing things with that person that we regret later.

I related to Austin even though I never ended up homeless. His story helped me understand how to recognize when someone’s bad for me, how to let them go, and then how to heal after letting go.

Austin’s Day One is James (Michael Kareem Dew), who he’s loyal to despite James’s irrational thinking. One day they see a woman drop her purse on the subway platform. After she frantically picks up her money and rushes past them James tells Austin, “I would’ve snatched her purse, ran up the stairs and boom, money.” So James hatches a plan to steal purses, mainly from wealthy white women. Austin disagrees with this until James starts walking away.

They successfully steal purses until one night a woman kicks and maces Austin. James comes to his aid and then laughs at him. Austin doesn’t find it so funny while the pepper spray burns his eyes; he tells Austin he’s done stealing purses and that it’s wrong. James, annoyed, tells Austin to “man up” and “be a man.”

James comes up with another bad idea to make money: selling narcotics on the street corner for a dealer named Juice (played by Joshua Elijah Adams). Another drug dealer’s distributors confront Austin and James, which leads to a neighborhood beef between the two suppliers. James and Austin get jumped a couple of times, and one night James gets shot and goes to the hospital. James survives and wants to keep hustling.

Austin realizes he can’t stay on this dangerous journey. You can tell it’s hard and that he will be by himself, but he knows that he needs to leave James behind and basically start his life over. He goes to Job Corps, a program to help young people find employment. We often have to cut another person off to move forward in life which is what Austin did. James was leading him into a dangerous downward spiral toward jail or death.

Wishing for More Films Like This

Know How has a real urban feel about it that I found relatable. It sheds a light on foster youth who have a strong outlook and gives a feeling of hope about life after foster care. I wish there were more movies like this.

You can watch the trailer for Know How or buy the DVD at firstrunfeatures.com. The movie is also available on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.


(WEB-2015-07-06)