America’s been reintroduced to Cleveland, Ohio as of late. Whether it’s been by way of LeBron James spilling tears over finally clenching a victory for his beloved Cavs, or for Trump and his cronies traipsing around town during the recent Republican National Convention – “The Forest City” has definitely been getting its fair share of shine. But far from the glowing lights of the Quicken Loans Arena is a Cleveland that emerging Black filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. aims to introduce you to in his first feature length film titled The Land.
The coming-of-age tale pulls you into the gritty streets of a not-so-often seen side of Cleveland, wrapped in dilapidated, graffiti-ridden buildings and cracked-up asphalt streets, as you take a front row seat view into the lives of four inner-city teenage boys who spend their days skateboarding and dreaming of ways to take their love for it to another level. Their lives take a sudden turn when they find themselves in the middle of a drug deal as The Land turns from a coming-of-age story to a cautionary account of how a life can spiral out of control with one wrong decision.
“I always see these tales about other cities like L.A., New York and the Chi,” USC film school graduate Caple explained to EBONY.com about why he chose to focus his first feature film on his hometown of Cleveland. “And I wanted something that was true to us, that was honest, the locations I grew up on, the different sides of Cleveland, Ohio.”
“The Land” made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and also caught the attention of legendary rapper Nas, who was looking for a project to get behind.
“On a personal side, his character spoke volumes after we started talking,” Nas said of Caple, once they spoke for the first time after being introduced by his manager. “I just wanted to do something that was real so that’s all that mattered and what he was bringing to the table was real so I got down.” And “got down” he did. Nas quickly signed onto the project as an executive producer. But his involvement didn’t stop there.
Caple also needed a soundtrack, so naturally Nas got down with that too. He curated the music, which includes a plethora of high profile artists like Kanye West, Pusha T, French Montana and the first ever collaboration between the Queens emcee and Erykah Badu. The latter of whom also has a small, surprising role in The Land, where she steps away from the chakra aligning, yoga posing, woke music singing, naturalista we’ve come to know and love.
If you’re looking for an uplifting story with a happy ending, The Land, will not deliver that. And it certainly doesn’t nestle comfortably into America’s current dialog on gun violence and police brutality against young Black men. But what you will find in Caple’s film is a collection of superb young actors (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Moises Arias, Ezri Walker and Rafi Gavron), who deliver honest portrayals displayed heartbreakingly beautifully on film, a few veterans (Michael K. Williams, Kim Coates) and a well written and authentically shot body of work by Steven Caple Jr.
The Land is in theaters in New York and L.A. now and will be available on VOD August 4.