John Diaz (21) walks into the café with his usual swagger. The 6-foot-2, 150 pounds actor looks like Ichabod Crane – a lanky beanstalk but way better-looking. In Five Star, Diaz plays a young man who struggles with his identity – should he, like his deceased father, go down the path of gang life? The movie, which will be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, blends fiction and reality. It is a coming-of-age story where Diaz discovers the meaning of manhood.
Born and raised in New York, Diaz lives with his mother and older sister in Lower East Side. He had not always wanted to be an actor. In middle school, his dream was to play for the Yankees. But after listening to Diana Ross’ daughter speaking about how fun it was to act, Diaz decided that he would become an actor. Because an actor gets to live a different life every time he walks on set. He took theater classes in high school and studied performance art at Nazareth College. He dropped out after eight credits. Six months after his return home, he was casted for Five Star.
Part Puerto Rican, part white and black, Diaz raps and models on the side. The young star shares what it was like working with Keith Miller for the past two years. Continue reading
James ‘Primo’ Grant (29), a general in the East New York Bloods, commands the room the moment he walks in the café. Wearing a leather-sleeved sweater with a red-eyed lion print, the burly, bearded man exudes solid strength. Speaking calmly, he points out the persons around us. See that guy? He’s into that girl. See how his knees turn toward her? A bouncer at Sugar Hill, a disco club in Brooklyn, Grant has predatory eyes like a hawk. He sees everything.
Primo shares a moment with his son, Sincere Grant. (Credit: Alex Mallis)
Grant is the star of Keith Miller’s newest feature film, Five Star. In it, he plays a leader of the Bloods. He is a father, husband, gang leader, friend and mentor. To John, a fatherless young man who is trying to decide if gang life is for him, Primo represents tough love. Mixing fiction and reality, the film is based closely on Grant’s real life. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he is the son of a Domnican mother and a Costa Rican father. He is the fourth of eight children, four sisters and three brothers. He joined the Bloods when he was 12 and is still active. The film touches upon issues like gang life, drugs and violence. However, it is more than your typical Hollywood gangster film. Instead, it highlights human struggle as both Primo and John wrestle with what it means – what choices one has to make – to be a man.
Grant lives in New Jersey with his fiancé and four children. Continue reading
It is 10:30 a.m. and already the Stuyvesant Town playground is filled with children. A woman leans forward into a baby carriage and coos, “Why are you crying?” She sniffs the diaper. “No stinky,” she declares, “What are you fussing about, your teeth coming out?”
Lilian is a nanny, part of an estimated 200,000 domestics employed in New York City. With her smooth, chocolate-brown complexion and voluminous afro gathered in a high bun, she appears no different from any African American woman living in the city – except her accent. She speaks as she is a tropical songbird, rolling her r’s and overstretches her vowels, adding an exotic musicality to her speech. Is it because she comes from Paramaribo, Suriname? Is it because she speaks taki taki, a creole language that mixes English and Dutch, back home? Lilian laughs and explains that when she speaks taki taki, she sounds like she is speaking broken English.
Friendly and talkative, Lilian is as warm as the weather back home. As she recounts her journey – she arrived in New York in 1991, two days before Christmas – she spins a tale of love, marriage, children, and work. She has been here for over twenty years, and she misses home. One day, she vows, one day she will return to her country and climb a mango tree.