LOS ANGELES, October 18, 2016—Written and directed by Ben Bowman, and co-written by Bryan Abrams, Knucklehead centers on a group of urban characters in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The “knucklehead” in question is a man named Langston, honestly portrayed by actor Gbenga Akinnagbe. Langston suffers from an unstated, but obvious developmental disability; yet despite his considerable limitations, has a dream of how his world should be and desires to pursue it.
He knows he is not living his best life, and recognizes that he is not “mentally excellent”.
Langston lives with his abusive mother Sheila, played with frightening precision by veteran actor Alfre Woodard, and longs to get his own apartment so that he can be independent from Sheila, his neighborhood, and his own fractured mind.
After his protective brother Julian (played by the smoothly charismatic Amari Cheatom) is shot, Langston takes his future into his own hands, searching out the Holy Grail of “Emirate”, a pill marketed by Dr. Brickstone, a Manhattan charlatan who writes his endorsements, along with his questionable prescription drug cocktails, in celebrity magazines.
Knucklehead charts Langston’s journey of seeking, loss, and unfortunate revelations. The film follows Langston’s stumbling footsteps, reflecting the world that he lives in, and subsequently discovers, through the lens of his often jumbled mind.
Gritty and raw, but ringed with tinges of hope, Knucklehead hits hard, yet offers unexpected touches of levity and humor. Windows on the world are a continual thread used to weave the theme. Langston sits on the fire escape spying through an open window as Julian hones in on a sexual conquest; Langston looks out on his neighborhood as he is trapped in the house by Sheila; and after his illusions are shattered, Langston bangs on the window of a Manhattan high-rise, overlooking a city that is unfamiliar, cruel, and cold.
These images are evocative of Langston’s impossible dream: gazing into a world with hunger and longing, but unable to engage in it.
Actor Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Following, The Wire, 24: Live Another Day) embodies the part, and gets lost in it, imbuing Langston with a fierce dignity, despite the indignities of his own mind, and the indignities he suffers. Even in the role of the alcoholic, abusive Sheila, Alfre Woodard (State Of Affairs, 12 Years a Slave) shines, and is riveting to watch, totally unafraid to fully embrace the deep and brazen notes of Sheila.
As the suave and savvy Julian, Amari Cheatom (Night Catches Us, Django Unchained) balances a debonair swagger with street smarts and fierce loyalty. He is a touchstone and point of reference for Langston; when that point of reference is taken, we feel Langston’s spiral and grieve along with him.
With a primarily black cast, white director Bowman crafts an urban story about faith and struggle from a perspective that is often overlooked by writers and directors of any color. Akinnagbe and Woodard were so invested in the project that they helped produce the film, assisting with the necessary financial and name-backing required for the project to find its full fruition.
Knucklehead first premiered at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in March 2015 to sold-out screenings. It had its West Coast premiere at the Dances with Films Festival in Hollywood on June 2015, where it won the Industry Choice Award. The film continued to win awards and rave reviews across the film festival circuit through the rest of 2015 and 2016.
The latter half of the year will see Knucklehead move into nationwide release. Distributor RLJ Entertainment acquired Knucklehead and will premiere it exclusively on its Urban Movie Channel (UMC) on Friday, October 21. On December 6, 2016, Knucklehead will be released on DVD.
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