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The Independent Critic

Netta Brooks, Allison Ewing, Alessandro Garcia, Trestin George, Evan Joelle, Angel Manzo, Regina Monique, Trevor B. Nagle, Ayodele Nzinga, Malik Omar, Deborah Pan, John Tam
Rafael Flores
85 Mins.

 "E.14" Explores the World of East Oakland 
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Founded in 2004, Green Eyed Media exists to promote Latino, African-American, Indigenous, and other marginalized voices in the global entertainment community. As a collective, Green Eyed Media is steadfastly committed to public health, environmental justice, and cultural equity. This project, E.14, takes place in East Oakland and tells the intersecting stories of  a young sex worker, an undocumented teenager, a reformed pimp, a homeless Black youth, and an elderly Chinese woman struggling to survive displacement while living along East Oakland’s International Boulevard, otherwise infamously known as “East 14th”.

Liberty (Netta Brooks) is the young sex worker; she's recently discovered that she's pregnant and is frantically looking for a place she can call home to raise her kid. Her pimp, King (Trestin George), faces a different sort of dilemma. He battles with leaving the sex trade altogether so that he can be present for his new daughter. 

Augustin (Angel Manzo) is an undocumented teen just trying to find a place to sleep, though an encounter with a bully (Evan Joelle) at a homeless shelter leaves him on the run and alone. Wei-Ling (Deborah Pan) argues with her son, Jimmy (John Tam), over selling the family home, a move deemed necessary by Jimmy to cover growing medical bills and upcoming taxes. 

Different stories. Intersecting. Each story with remarkable starkness and meaning and lives impacted. 

Weaving into its tapestry the devastation and cultural conflicts found within gentrification and planting itself firmly within an indie spirit that is dedicated to both informing and entertaining, E.14 is the kind of film that's difficult to review because while it's modest budget may seem a hindrance at times it's impossible to not admire and deeply respect the voices in the film given respect, integrity, honesty, and room to breathe. 

The film is accurately labeled as social drama meets docu-fiction, characters at times speaking directly to you and I in a way that wants us to be drawn in and to pay attention to what's going on in these lives that are so often easily tossed aside and forgotten. I would be lying if I said I found the film to be entirely successful, yet I was also engaged for every single one of its 85 minutes. It's a film that seeks liberation, for its characters and for the very real worlds represented by its characters. 

Netta Brooks makes for a fiercely compelling figure as Liberty, both aching in vulnerability and necessarily hardened by her life as a sex worker. It is not difficult to believe she's survived the streets, at times barely, but it's also not difficult to believe there's an equally fierce mama deep inside her. 

Trestin George is compelling, though in a different way. He's hardened, as well, with a street-forged machismo yet also possesses a very real desire for effective fatherhood that would almost seem to go against everything he lives. Yet, we believe in him. 

Angel Manzo won me over perhaps more than anyone, a lost soul in a world where he's lot and alone. He's vulnerable yet guarded, aware that many don't want him around yet also determined to survive anyway. Evan Joelle's turn is frighteningly real as Terrell, while there's a simple, melancholy humanity in the scenario involving Deborah Pan's Wei-Ling and John Tam's Jimmy. Deborah Pan does remarkable work here, quietly yet convincingly drawing us in to a story that is played over and over and over again in America. 

There are other tremendous performances, of course. Allison Ewing is particularly impactful as Andria, while the remainder of the ensemble cast also shines. 

Stefan Ruenzel's lensing for the film is low-key and immersive in the way it envelopes us in this world that most of us haven't experienced. 

E.14 lives squarely in the world of cinema that matters. While it entertains, it's not necessarily trying to simply entertain. This isn't the kind of film you'd ever see inside a multiplex. You're much more likely to see it in a room crowded with activists trying to come up with a plan to save their community. It's a bold film that demands that you pay attention and, if we're being honest, all too often when we go to the movies these days it's not necessarily to pay attention. 

With E.14 you'll need to and want to pay attention. 

For more information on E.14, visit the film's official website linked to in the credits. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic