As the opening scene of Netflix’s “Imperial Dreams” began I realized that the streets Bambi walked down were all too familiar. The “Imperial Courts” of Watts, CA housing projects are located just 20 minutes away frown Downtown LA, the billion dollar project of the University of Southern California and streets I ran down as a child growing up in South Central LA.
South Central, currently under gentrification and renamed "South Los Angeles" is undergoing major construction. Which includes the eviction of generations of families, closing of minority businesses and entrance of corporations. The projects, however, have stayed the same.
In the film, Bambi returns home from prison to his son. His dream is clear, he desires to create a life for his son that is void of early death, full of opportunity and time to truly live as a child. Yet the environment that welcomes him home isn't conducive to support him and his dreams reaching fruition. He is constantly confronted with opportunities to revert back to his position of jail or worse fall victim to a bullet.
Bambi’s struggle, is a daily occurrence for the hundreds of inmates released weekly across the nation. The system is set up for them to fail. Success seems slim and relapses inevitable. The confrontations that John Boyega, who plays Bambi's character, faces showcase his willingness to fight a judicial system which is set up against him. Not only is it difficult to obtain a license or a job but without housing, Child Protective Services removes his son. As he navigates his only familial options they are slim. His cousin is in debt and danger with a rival, his uncle is embedded in the street life and refuses to lend money or a home without Bambi's assistance in crime, his brother doesn’t want to be too close to him due to his own desire to rise as a college student. There’s nobody to help him, but himself. "Imperial Dreams" depicts post-prison life as it truly is, lonely.
The story of Bambi, is common. The “war on crime” has imprisoned black bodies by the thousands leaving so many to become stuck in its revolving doors without an opening to re-enter society. Yet, his dedication to both his life and his son is ever present throughout the film. As Black History Month nears the third week, the question of, will judicial reform occur, will definitely be on the minds of those who view this film. Although I enjoyed the films depiction of black fatherhood and its use of real life scenarios for newly freed inmates, I struggled with processing the ultimatums that Bambi faced. His love for writing and passion to transform the trajectory of those in his community was refreshening, yet disheartening, when confronting the realization that even if he made it out....hundreds wouldn't.
I recalled watching Boyz n the Hood for the first time. My heart and mind were rooting for Ricky to make it to USC, for someone to "make it out" so the American Dream seemed real. In watching "Imperial Dreams" I was reminded that the "American Dream" wasn't constructed for my people. In South Central Los Angeles, South Side Chicago and inner-city communities across the nation we are still searching for a "way out" because where we are born isn't always where we can stay and the fight for freedom almost always means leaving everything you've ever known.