Summertime. Kids. Dead Body. The hood. This sounds familiar, but this tale is unlike what you’ve seen. The Magic City is a gritty, poignant but still hopeful coming-of-age tale in Miami’s Liberty City where girls take center stage.
Narrated by 11 year-old Tiana (newcomer Latrice Jackson), the film chronicles the life of her and her sister Nia (Lashay Jackson) as they come to live with their sweet Aunt Georgia. The new girl across the street, Amiya (Amiyah Thomas), comes to visit her Aunt Valerie (Jenifer Lewis) and hateful cousin Brittney (Coi Collins) and soon befriends the two girls. Everyone has a backstory of grief and trauma, and the Magic City soon uncovers it.
Liberty City is a no-way-out zone. As Tiana remarks, “If you listen to the streets carefully, you’ll always have the answer”; advice given to her by her drug-addicted mother before she and her sister were taken away and split into two separate foster homes.
When Aunt Georgia dies unexpectedly, the girls work to conceal her death using methods apropos given the context of their situation. The sisters have been in battle for years and are using their learned tactics to ensure they aren’t separated from each other again, given the failure of the foster care system. Their accomplice Amiya is dealing with her own personal traumas and resorts to self-mutilation to cope. She finds a kindred spirit in Tru (Jamie Hector), her Uncle who is extremely creepy, but not without reason. As we see the young ladies dealing with their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, his extends past the life in the hood to time spent in the military.
The absence of a prominent boy’s perspective is hardly noticeable as the girls navigate through their circumstances with the grit and —some might say— levelheadedness often attributed to boys. This “girlz in the hood” doesn’t sensationalize the horror of the inner-city, nor exploit its characters but instead offers a true understanding and sympathy for their pathology. With torture, robbery and hustling, these aren’t doll playing, boy crazy girls, but products of their environment, striving to survive. For authenticity, R. Malcolm Jones held auditions in the tri-county area (Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade) for the young actors and he succeeds, all giving strong performances.
Many will ache watching little girls make tough decisions. Save Brittney, these are children who display a great deal of distrust for adults and the system, never calling the police or asking anyone for help when the tragedy strikes. Jenifer Lewis is warm as the only “caring” parent in the film, yet Aunt Valerie’s efforts are for naught as she raises a mean-spirited, angry bully for a daughter who gets her comeuppance in a very satisfying way.
PTSD is an oft-ignored topic with regards to inner-city life, especially children, and The Magic City tackles this in a way that’s easiest to reach its core audience. A Mindless Behavior cameo might bring them in to see it, but this thoughtful and powerful tale will keep them and stay with them for years to come.
Magic City is screening at the Urbanworld Film Festival, AMC 34th Street Theater. Saturday, September 21, at 2:30 pm. Bring your children.
Monique A Williams is an author, content curator, student and mother. You can find out more about her at her official website, www.itsmomowilly.com.