In the following UNFILTERED blog post, the team behind Gentlemen of Vision share how audiences connect to authentic characters and heartfelt storytelling.

Ca$h-U during practice. Photo credit: Frank Popper.

When we attend panel discussions after screenings of Gentlemen of Vision, one of the most common questions is: “how’s Ca$h-U doing?” We like that question because while there are very powerful, articulate and inspiring characters in the film, Ca$h-U does not naturally stand out. Even when we first began filming the step practices and the interactions between coach Marlon Wharton and his step team, Ca$h-U was nearly invisible…he was soft-spoken if he spoke at all, not a leader among teammates or friends. But as we got inside the team and the lives of these young men and the stories began to emerge, it became clear that if anyone needed this team, this coaching, this brotherhood, it is the kid whose step name was Ca$h-U.

Yes, this is a story about kids from tough neighborhoods, and there are authentic feel-good elements about overcoming the odds. But winning step competitions is not “overcoming the odds.” These are high school kids entering adulthood and the odds are still stacked against them. One of those odds is public perception of young black men…especially those whose family background, school districts and neighborhoods add up to “at-risk.” Even in their own neighborhood, St. Louis’s North County suburbs, few people were aware that the place best known for unrest in Ferguson had produced a team with a string of national championships. They know that now and so does the rest of the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The team practicing after school in the cafeteria of Riverview Gardens High School. Photo Credit: Frank Popper.

But why would these young men put in so much work to become the best at something that won’t win them a college scholarship to a Division I school? On stepping teams, no one dreams of being drafted in the first round. They have pride, they have determination, they are competitive…they have dreams. Many who see Gentlemen of Vision would never meet or want to meet or expect much from many of these kids. And yet somebody always asks… “How’s Ca$h-U doing?”

Gentlemen of Vision, introduces us to a brotherhood of young men, persistently challenged by the violence and poverty of the streets that surround them, support each other and strive for excellence in school and in step. The film that reveals a vulnerability and honesty in the stories of Black male youth, rarely exhibited in popular mainstream culture, will have its broadcast premiere on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at 8 p.m. on WORLD Channel (check local listings). The film by The Nine Network of Public Media was produced as part of American Graduate, public media’s initiative to improve outcomes for all young people. American Graduate is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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AMERICA REFRAMED curates a diverse selection of films, highlighting innovative and artistic approaches to storytelling portrayed from the lens of emerging and veteran filmmakers. Viewers are immersed in personal stories from towns big and small, to the exurbs and through country roads, spanning the spectrum of American life. The documentaries invite audiences to reflect on varied topics including culture, healthcare, politics, gun violence, religion and more. UNFILTERED is a new space where AMERICA REFRAMED filmmakers can share their experiences and reflections about the documentary filmmaking process. The views expressed in UNFILTERED are solely those of the author/filmmaker in his/her personal capacity, and do not in any way represent the views or policies of AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY Inc., POV, WBGH, the WORLD Channel, or AMERICA REFRAMED.