Washington, D.C. has one of the highest rates of hate crimes against the LGBT+ community. So in 2009, a group of young, gay, black LGBT+ teens formed a gang called Check It that was designed to provide “safety in numbers” protection against such violence. The organization is the subject of Check It, a 2016 documentary that recently screened at the Human Rights Art and Film Festival in Melbourne.
Most of the members of Check It are estranged from their families or have otherwise disadvantageous home lives. A lot of them are homeless and many of them turn to prostitution in order to pay rent, eat or just survive. But what else are they supposed to do? When they get kicked out of their homes as young teenagers simply for being different and/or kicked out of school at an even younger age because of perceived behavioral problems, what other recourse do these undereducated black LGBT teenagers have?
Check It doesn’t answer these questions – and doesn’t try to. But it does a great job of outlining the problem and presenting it in a way that WE as a society can also ask those same questions and hopefully answer them – or at the very least be aware of them whether we choose to even seek out those answers or not. The film also wisely distinguishes Check It from a traditional gang by showing how familial and supportive they are of each other to be whoever they are or want to be despite the adversity they face. And it repeatedly reminds the viewer of the circumstances behind who they are, what they do and why.
Check It eventually makes news for their activities and gains notoriety for their fearlessness in fighting back given what they’ve already been through at the hands, fists, knives and guns of others.
Enter Ron “Mo” Moten, a former inmate making good on his own second chance. Understanding that changes to any organization come from the top, he seeks out their leader Tray and has him on his radio show to talk about the group. And noticing that most of these kids are very interested in fashion, Mo arranges for them to be enrolled in a fashion camp run by Jamal Harris, a local fashion show producer.
Mo takes a further interest in Check It member Skittles – who has a natural ability for fighting. Mo introduces Skittles to Duke, who owns a gym where Skittles hone his skills in the boxing ring. Despite the ability, encouragement and opportunity, Skittles starts to show up to the gym less and less – which prompts Mo to seek him out to find out why. The answer isn’t made clear, but Mo knows that he can only do so much and then the rest is up to Skittles (or any other kid for that matter).
Toward the end of the film, the stories of Tray and Skittles present as a sad dichotomy between those like Tray who will at least try to take advantage of opportunities presented to him and those like Skittles who may or may not.
Check It ends shortly after the fashion show, but it doesn’t do so with any conclusions or resolutions – nor should it. Instead, Check It ends with a primary call to awareness and a secondary call to action by pointing out that all of this goes on just a few miles from where the most powerful people in the world can orchestrate change. And whether or not they or anyone else are aware of what’s going on right under their noses or do but just don’t care, young teenagers will be kicked out of their house or out of school and take to the streets to be embraced by Check It. And the cycle will just continue until things actually do change.
As is the case for any documentary about a potentially uncomfortable subject, Check It deserves as much distribution and exposure as possible – both for its importance and for its ability to orchestrate the change it desires.
My only concern is that because the film doesn’t beat people over the head with its messaging — as may be necessary because given how slow people are to concern themselves with what doesn’t affect them directly, such change might come a bit slower than it should.