Imperial Dreams shows the struggles which come from trying to get yourself together after going to jail. For with no one wanting to hire a felon, you struggle with trying to stay out of what got you put into prison in the first place. Add in you don’t have any sort of assistance from the government and only a limited amount from churches and family and thus you begin to understand why recidivism rates are so high.
Trigger Warning(s): Gun Shots (You will see someone brutally murdered by gun violence)
Bambi (John Boyega) | Wayne (Rotimi) | Uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) | Gideon (De’aundre Bonds) | Samaara (KeKe Palmer) | Dayton (Ethan and Justin Coach) | Tanya (Kellita Smith)
Characters & Storyline
20 something-year-old Bambi has been in and out of jail since he was 12 and the only thing which has kept him sane was writing. In fact, while last in prison, he got one of his short stories, based on his life, published. However, one short story in some small time book isn’t going to pay bills. It isn’t going to help him feed and shelter his son, much less keep the temptation away from going back to what put him in jail in the first place.
So what is someone old enough to be a man but without the tools to do so, supposed to do?
Things To Note | Question(s) Left Unanswered
- What happened to Bambi’s father? He in jail or dead?
- Whose Grandpa is Wayne staying with? His father’s or mother’s? Also, where is Grandma and the missing grandparents of this equation?
- How old is Dayton exactly?
The hood is the cruelest of prisons. The most unusual of punishments. […] And when you’re born in prison, you don’t know what to do with freedom. No matter how shiny they make it.
— Imperial Dreams
It’s easy to recognize your truth in retrospect. What’s hard is being true in the moment.
— Imperial Dreams
An old lifer once told you, ‘All men suffer loss.’ But you know now that not all losses are the same. Only the ones that stop you from ever fighting again make you a loser. Make you go back to what’s easy. What you know. […] All the other losses just serve to strengthen you. Prepare you for what’s ahead.
— Imperial Dreams
The Beauty of a Father & Son Relationship
2016 was a beautiful year when it came to seeing Black fathers with their kids. While of course we got Black-ish on ABC, which has a few cute moments, it was the moments on Queen Sugar and Atlanta which really hit home. Queen Sugar is one which this movie especially had me think of since Ralph-Angel is in a similar predicament to Bambi. Yet, with Bambi, we see what it would be like to not have that family support, only having access to those who led you down the path to the prison gates in the first place, and really having to fend for yourself and then try to protect the innocence of your kid all the while.
Something Boyega does well with the Coach twins. For while there may not be a moment you are ready to break down and cry, it’s beautiful to watch him try, refuse to have his kid not with him, and him try to be there for him like his dad wasn’t likely there for him. The effort doesn’t go unnoticed and while the Coach twins may not have been written to be on the level of Blue, as supporting actors they really helped establish the heart of this movie.
While The Women Aren’t Perfect, They Are Trying
With most being raised by their mother, or mother’s associates, in films like this, often they seem to set the bar for the worse you may see. Strangely, while Bambi’s mother Tanya is a drug addict, it isn’t depicted on the level as say the mother in Moonlight. We are made aware that there is probably more to her story than let on, but they don’t drag her through the mud about it.
Though, what is good about her performance and Gideon’s mother Samaara, is that while we may see them at their lowest point, they aren’t treated as hopeless or irredeemable. Tanya, to keep her boys from being shot, killed, or indebted to her child’s father’s brother, decides to potentially sacrifice herself for their comforts. Samaara, while in jail for the whole movie, you can see she, like Bambi, only ended up in there because options were few and she had a mouth to feed.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, though not the most positive depictions of Black woman, though there is one which is a cop and a social worker, what matters with this movie is It didn’t play on stereotypes and omit giving you enough to see deeper.
Nothing Feels Over The Top/You Get A Sense of The Struggle
Wayne struggling to pay to go to Howard University and live in the dorms. Bambi trying to make some kind of money, doing something legit, with a record and no license. Uncle Shrimp offering money if Bambi, or Wayne, does something illegal which is just transporting drugs across state lines. In this film, there aren’t gang wars or some sensationalized story. All of what you see seems like someone’s real life story, and not some embellished or trumped up tale to jazz up someone’s real life.
While most of Bambi’s family couldn’t do much, positive, for him, you had to love his relationship with Gideon, his cousin, and his half-brother Wayne. Two completely opposite people who tried to be something positive in Bambi’s life. Whether it was Wayne asking his grandfather to the pastor for some kind of help to Gideon, through buying or stealing, getting a laptop to support his writing career. Both presented a touching relationship.
On The Fence
Like with 2009’s Precious, You So Badly Want an Epilogue Showing Things Got Better
The movie doesn’t end with a sudden upswing of things getting better. Which I both appreciate and hate. I appreciate it because, it doesn’t always get better and even when it seems like it may, that can be false hope. Yet, at the same time, I’m struggling to be in that mindset where I can deal with happy endings not being an option. For while I don’t seek escapism from movies, but more so a means to pass the time, it does get draining to see Black films like these which rarely leave things on a happy note. Unless they are like Hidden Figures where you walk in knowing, despite the drama, it ultimately is going to be a feel good movie.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
If there was a book, I’d be tempted to read it. For there are missing details you want to know and while you can’t help but like the performances and acting, since they seem so authentic, you badly want a few silver lining moments. More than Wayne going to school far from the hood and something happy for Bambi or Dayton. Heck, even his mom or Samaara. Mostly because, you get attached to these people over the course of an hour and 20 minutes. Hence the Positive label since, while I’m left wanting more, I’m ok with what I got.