Kevin embraces a life of crime after his father’s death, but when Black is released from prison, he works to become a reliable father figure to Kevin and his reluctant legal guardian, Kelsie.

In “A Letter to Black Men,” director Kiosa Sukami masterfully weaves a narrative that not only examines the portrayal of Black men in contemporary media but also delves into the profound themes of fatherhood and redemption within the community. The story revolves around Kevin, a young man on the verge of succumbing to a life of crime following the loss of his father. His path takes a dramatic turn when Black, a father-like figure who has just been released from prison, seeks to rekindle his relationship with Kevin and his sister, Kelsie, who has become Kevin’s legal guardian. As Black attempts to prove himself as a dependable father figure, the film navigates the complex dynamics between these characters and the life-altering decisions that Kevin must make for his future.

Sukami’s storytelling is deeply rooted in his personal experiences, having moved from Congo to London at a young age. He captures the sense of being both an insider and an outsider, peering through the looking glass as an observer of the world around him. This perspective informs the film’s exploration of crime recruitment, creative aspirations, post-prison struggles, stereotyping, sibling relationships, and the influence of parental wisdom. “A Letter to Black Men” is a reflection of the director’s own journey, creating fictional characters dealing with similar challenges in their unique ways.

“A Letter to Black Men” stands as a thought-provoking and heartfelt narrative that not only explores the complexities of the Black male experience but also offers a profound meditation on the role of fatherhood in the community. Through nuanced character dynamics and a powerful story of redemption, Sukami’s film captures the essence of resilience, hope, and the enduring importance of personal choices in shaping one’s future. We spoke to Kiosa who told us a little more on his film:

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

I made the film to break the cycle of films that glamorise gang violence and drugs within the Black community. I wanted to educate young Black men, who may be dealing with the pressures that come with growing up in urban areas. It is a personal social commentary film that looks to shine a light on the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality amongst young Black men as well as the importance of father-figures.

The film is also inspired by an amalgamation of true events. There are many similarities shared with my personal experiences that are shown in the film, for example; older guys involved in selling drugs trying to recruit young people in county lines; I saw people, like our lead character Black, struggle to adjust within a new world after being imprisoned; the local shopkeeper or ‘boss man’ as we call him, stereotyped us each time we went in based on his experiences with other Black kids shoplifting – the list goes on. I simply took inspiration from these and recreated fictional characters dealing with these in their own way.

As a writer/director are you open to changes or suggestions when you start shooting or do you like to stick to what has been written?

I’d say I am very open to changes, even when we have started shooting. Although my short film is scripted, I wanted the performances to not feel like they were. I improv with actors during rehearsals, sometimes even on set, which consist of sensory details of circumstances in order to provoke an organic, subconscious performance. Conversations come across more naturally when you give actors a safe space to learn to react to each other as they would naturally without the constraints of a script.

What kind of challenges did this film come with?

The whole film was self-funded so the hardest challenge was being able to produce such an ambitious idea on a shoe-string budget. As I was working in production at the time, I managed to pull in favours from my network of freelancers and friends who gave me really good deals on rates and equipment. We also had quite a few location moves, sometimes across the other side of town, so getting the crew back in the mindset after being crammed in a car for over 45 mins was difficult. Ultimately, because the crew size was so small it meant we all got to know each other really well and by the end it felt like we were one big dysfunctional family.

What has this film taught you about filmmaking?

The most important thing I have learned creating this film is to stay true to yourself. I was working as a freelance videographer at the time so I was always building someone else’s dream, or writing films that I thought other people wanted to see. My approach to this film was to make something I wanted to see myself, without caring about whether or not other people would even enjoy it. Once I became selfish in my vision in this way, there was no one else I could blame for any shortcomings or anything else I could do but trust the process.

What do you hope people will take away from ‘A Letter to Black Men’?

I would like young men conflicted by any issues touched upon in the film to know that things don’t have to end the same way if we make better choices. Whether that be staying out of gangs, focusing on education or your ambitions, we can all make a conscious effort to not end up as a statistic in the news. I want to encourage young people to explore new outlets. I would also like viewers who are on the outside looking in, reading sensational knife crime headlines, to understand that we all make mistakes based on our circumstances. Whether you are Black or not, when you see or hear about things like “gang violence”, “county lines” and “single parent-households” in the media, there is more to it than meets the (stereotypical) eye.

What are your favourite short films?

I recently watched a short film called Cruise by Samuel Rudykoff (Watch on FS) at Bolton Film Festival and it was definitely one of my favourites and really stuck with me. It’s about a hapless telemarketer trying mightily to give away a free cruise. And if he fails, there will be dire consequences. It was short, simple and very effective shot in 1 location with 2 actors at a desk. It goes to show you can achieve great things even with such limitations if your idea is good!

Which films can you say directly inspired this film?

Specific to this film, one of my influences was the 1999 film Kids by Larry Clark. It had a significant impact on me due to its very grounded approach of being shot in a semi- documentary style with inexperienced actors. The film chronicles a single day in the life of young people and these same two elements can be said about A Letter To Black Men. I wanted to write about the people I knew growing up in London but portray them in the same authentic way I felt Clark had managed to for his characters, with real world problems. I always felt the media I was consuming were doing these characters a disservice. When we see or hear about Black men from these ‘urban’ areas in the media, there is a constant narrative of misery. Whether it is in the news, movies or tv shows, the portrayal of Black characters always felt one, maybe two-dimensional. Oftentimes these characters are fictional but written by people who could not relate to them if they existed and subsequently, they never seem to teach me anything or show any personal growth throughout the story. I started looking around my surroundings for characters who I understood and could relate to and the rest was history.