BRIDGEPORT — If filmmaker Bogar Alonso has his way, Bridgeport will be the backdrop for his independent film addressing the heavyweight issues of police brutality, oppression and racism.
Billed as a "neo-noir about Chicago, racism and redemption," his screenplay "Rodney" centers on Rodney Freeman, a fictional black former Golden Gloves champion boxer who's finishing a 20-year prison sentence for killing a white off-duty police officer during a fight. On the day before Freeman's released, police shoot and kill his son while the son allegedly is raping a woman.
What follows is a tale that raises tough questions about race and the American justice system, all set in the Bridgeport neighborhood, with many scenes to be filmed in next-door Armour Square Park.
That location has an important history in the city's racial politics. It's where black teenager Lenard Clark was brutally beaten by a trio of white De La Salle Institute students from Bridgeport in a case that drew national attention in 1997.
Alonso, 27, who now lives in New York City, said he began researching the case and wanted to further explore "how people acted with minorities in the neighborhood."
But Alonso said he's got his own history with the South Side enclave.
During visits to his uncles, all Mexicans who lived on South Emerald Avenue, his relatives warned him to hide his Hispanic heritage while going to play soccer in the local parks.
"They'd say, just make sure people in the neighborhood don't find out you're Mexican. ... I didn't really take them seriously at the time," he said.
To get his film produced, Alonso is hoping to raise money through a crowdfunding website. He's more than halfway there with just more than a week to go.
A journalist, poet and activist, Alonso said he's inspired by the writing tradition of Chicago author Nelson Algren, who chronicled the tales of ordinary people for whom the American dream, whatever it was to them, was out of reach.
The film would take its cues from gritty shows and films like 1994's "Fresh," the Oscar-nominated "City of God" and the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Wire" — "urban dramas with somewhat of a violent element," he said.
A native of Wicker Park, Alonso is a graduate of the film school at Columbia College Chicago who's written two independent shorts, including "Hermano," which screened at the Chicago Latino Film Festival.
"Rodney" would be his directorial debut. To make it happen, he's enlisted the help of producer pals Adrian Orozco, Mario Valdivieso, Travis Williams and cinematographer Dustin Puehler, plus a powerhouse hip-hop score.
Alsonso said he's not trying to single out Bridgeport or the city, though he said racism isn't a thing of the past there, pointing to a 2012 case where seven teens, including the 17-year-old son of a Cook County sheriff's police deputy, were filmed beating an Asian student in Bridgeport.
"In fact, the last time I was in the neighborhood an older fellow made it a point to tell me on the bus why it bothered him that Mexicans had moved into the neighborhood — having no idea that I'm Mexican," he said.
"It's just something that I have familiarity with and which always struck me as something worth exploring on film," he said.
If it's funded, filming for "Rodney" would begin this summer.