SMC — After the storm of foster care, domestic abuse and gang violence had passed, Jabril Muhammad found his voice.
It’s a voice that comes through in an independently-produced film that tells the story of a boy who much like Muhammad experienced a challenging life growing up in the gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles, fighting the external forces that tried to draw him into violence.
The story is told in a 2008 film that was written by the 20-year-old Santa Monica College student, who also stars as the main character, J.B.
Recently screened at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival in Los Angeles, “Put It In a Book” was inspired by Muhammad’s own struggles in life, going in and out of the foster care system, living with sickle cell anemia, and dealing with a father who was abusive toward his mother, who died when the aspiring actor was just 15.
The movie, which also stars actors Michael Ealy and Kerry Washington, tells the story of a young man confronted with the decision of going with a gang-free life or seeking revenge after his older brother is murdered. The film was directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who has directed shows such as “Six Feet Under” and “Carnivale.”
The Make a Film Foundation produced the movie after discovering Muhammad when he was still a high school student, impressed to hear his vision of putting together a film that would talk about gang life in Los Angeles. It was an idea that came to Muhammad after taking part in a documentary in which he interviewed teens, former gang members and community activists who had been affected by gang violence. “Peace Process,” which was released in 2006, was written and directed by Katina Parker.
“’Peace Process’ sparked something in me,” he said.
Make a Film was founded on the goal of giving young adults who have been diagnosed with a critical or terminal illness the opportunity to be involved in entertainment media. Muhammad was one of the first members recruited.
Tamika Lamison, co-founder of the foundation, said that she was immediately taken with Muhammad’s vision.
“He already knew he wanted to create a story based on his environment that was about gangs and gang violence and being faced with a choice of going down the dark road of gang violence or a righteous road of creating a life for yourself,” she said.
Muhammad grew up in different parts of the city, at various times living with his mother, grandmother, sister and older brother. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 2007.
Today he is a sophomore at Santa Monica College where he is studying liberal arts, hoping to transfer to UCLA or USC and begin a career in acting.
“Despite all the challenges, I’m still a student, I’m still here, still alive and I haven’t fallen yet,” he said.
Muhammad credits his mentors with helping to keep him on track.
“If I didn’t have people to actually care for me and help me and take care of me all the time, I would probably be in the streets gang banging,” he said.
Muhammad then pointed to a copy of “Put It In a Book,” adding, “This probably wouldn’t be here.”
The movie has been screened in several festivals, including Dances With Films and the Gordon Brothers Film Festival where it took home second place in the Audience Award category.
It is scheduled to be screened at the Hollywood Black Film Festival and the San Francisco Black Film Festival.
The filmmaking process has allowed Muhammad to flourish, Lamison said.
“(It) has helped him to focus his talents and his ideas and give him the boost that he needs to choose a path,” she said. “Whenever I need a pick me up, I think of Jabril and the transformation he had throughout our organization.”