*Keith Stansfield is one of several young artists whose talents are on display in “Short Term 12.”
The critically-acclaimed offering is set at a short term foster home for juveniles. It represents a snap shot of the lives of its foster children and the employees who are charged with watching over them.
Stansfield plays a young man whose character is dear to me for reasons beyond the obvious, the obvious being that character Marcus is a young black man. He first played the role of Marcus several years ago in the short from which the feature film now derives its name. Keith says his portrayal of the character has grown with him as he has gotten older.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but there was a five year gap between the short and the feature length film,” said Stansfield. “It was a whole bunch of experiences and life changing things that I had been through in that time. By that point in time I was a lot more confident in my ability to portray the image by the time we had gotten around to doing the feature length. With the short, it was the very first thing that I had ever done and my only concern was actually performing well.”
The character Marcus is a 17 year old resident of the foster home who is on the verge of turning 18. He is experiencing a great deal of angst due the fact that he is about to be evicted from what has become familiar to him when he becomes an adult. He realizes he has no where to go and begins to rebel.
“African American males are one of the most marginalized groups in America and even abroad whether people want to recognize it or not,” said Stansfield. “There’s definitely an element of that that rings true to me. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been indicted by the color of my skin before I’ve even had a chance to explain myself. Hopefully, people who have gone through this type of thing can identify. The way that I approach it is simply as a struggle you can apply to anyone. It’s a universal truth that all people struggle in one sense or another. Marcus is going through the very same thing. At times we go through our struggles and we want to give up. He represents a person who never wants to give up no matter how much the odds are against him. I portrayed him by looking inside of myself and my inner conflicts and how I tried to overcome those things like having no one to talk to or no where to go.”
There are quite a few films out there in which the protagonist is a well-meaning individual who is looking to help the less fortunate through the system. Often times these individuals are portrayed by white actors. While I must admit that it does get tiring seeing the story of the great white hope on the big screen, “Short Term 12” is rare to me in that it helped cast these counselors and social workers in a sympathetic light. However, despite starring in the film, Keith says he is still very cynical regarding government funded social programs in general.
“I tend to be cynical when we’re talking about foster homes and things like that. I tend to think it’s more of a business thing rather than a situation where people are genuinely concerned. There’s a part in the film where Grace is struggling to try and help a certain kid and she is told by her boss that it was not in her job description. I felt that was more indicative of what’s actually going on rather than people genuinely trying to help others out. I think, being in the richest country in the world, there should be no people hungry or struggling if we really wanted to help them. I think that’s quite ridiculous. I think that a lot more can be done. What I do have a new respect for through this film is humanity. When the establishment can’t help it is usually people who step in to fill that void to help us move on. We’re all we got and we understand us more than anyone else. Sometimes it’s the kids helping the adults and not just adults helping the kids. It’s blacks helping whites and not just whites helping blacks. When we get locked up in the color we miss the true message.”
This is Keith’s first feature length film yet he has been getting rave reviews for his performance. He told me that it was all put into perspective for him when he came across the most unlikely of fans.
“I really became vulnerable doing this film because it describes how I feel in certain situations,” he explained. “I just felt it is what it is, and was what it was. Now that I have seen the film several times I see what it is that people identify with. They identify with what I display on the screen with what they see in themselves. There was an old woman of around 90 years old and she came up to me saying ‘your raps really moved me’. That really solidified that feeling that, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you look like. It just strengthens our over all union when we express our artistic side like this.”
“Short Term 12” was written and directed by Destin Cretton and stars Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr and Kaitlyn Dever along with Keith Stansfield and a host of other talented individuals. The film scored a 7.8 out of 10 on IMDB and is now playing at a theater near you.