Boys of Baraka: Zero

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After Born into Brothels won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, it was only a matter of time before the imitators came along. That film chronicled the efforts of a couple of fledgling filmmakers to improve the lot of some Calcutta street urchins whose mothers were all prostitutes.

Conveniently borrowing Born into Brothels’ reliance on the letter “B� for alliteration, Boys of Baraka follows similar efforts to save about 20 adolescent underachievers from Baltimore by shipping them off to an experimental, academically-oriented school located in rural Kenya. I hesitate to review this film at all, because it frequently struck false notes, though presenting itself as a documentary.

Scene after scene seems staged, starting with the recruitment sales pitch delivered in the auditorium of a ghetto-based middle school where we witness a counselor attempting to scare 12 year-olds into the study abroad program by inappropriately suggesting that they have only three prospects in life: prison, a casket or a high school diploma.

In another equally unlikely tableau, we see the mother of two applicants worrying that if only one of her sons is accepted, the child left behind will grow up to be a killer. Throughout this highly-exploitative production, the children appear to be playing to the camera in a rather unnatural manner, as if they’ve been coached prior to filming.

I even suspect that scenes which were supposedly shot before the students left for Africa were actually re-enactments made after their return. Worst of all is the picture’s overall suggestion that because the Baltimore schools are failing Black youths, these boys would be better off in Africa, away from their families and in the care of non-native whites for two school years, boarding at an institution without most modern conveniences.

Sorry, but Boys of Baraka is a disingenuous docu-drama which fudges the truth in service of an infuriating, self-serving agenda, namely, accolades and awards for the film itself, and at the expense of accuracy or improving the lot of the young souls sacrificed in the process.

Poor (0 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: ThinkFilm

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