FORT GREENE — Like his character in "Five Star" — a coming-of-age film set in the New York gang scene — James "Primo" Grant, 29, has had a gun pointed at his head.
Also like his character, Grant walked the streets of Fort Greene with his fellow gang members "taking care of business."
The crossover between Grant and his character — named Primo after Grant’s own street name — creates the foundation for director Keith Miller’s “Five Star,” a blend of fiction and reality both in the script and for the actors. The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, asks what it means to become a man in an urban setting. Grant lent his own personal experience of this process to the production.
"Almost every scene in the film I have actually lived. By God's grace I have lived it," said Grant, who met Miller through another actor. The two had worked together on a short film before collaborating on this feature.
Miller lives in Brooklyn, not far from Fort Greene where many scenes were shot. He said he never set out to create a movie about gangs. His initial thoughts were on a son or a man growing up without a father.
"For me it is a coming of age story set in a specific world," Miller said.
"I'm interested in the political and social consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline, and how one in four men of color are involved in the penal system," he said.
It wasn’t until Miller met Grant, who embodied many of the issues Miller wanted to portray, that the story started to form around life in a gang and the decision to be in one.
Grant and Miller estimate about 70 percent of scenes were taken from Grant's life story and meshed together through a fictional narrative.
In one scene, Grant's character instigates a beating of a gang member further down the chain of command for not coming up with money he owed. The punishment, which Grant referred to as "laying hands on someone," was a regular scenario for a Bloods leader, a role that thrives on respect and fear, he said.
"The lifestyle that I live, that I have embraced, it can be scary, but it's my life," said Grant, who is still "100 percent" active in the gang, but no longer "out there patrolling the streets and looking for trouble."
In the story, Grant becomes a paternal figure to a teenage gang protégé named John (played by Lower East Side native John Diaz). Grant's character introduces John to the inner workings of the gang and hands John his first assignment. At other moments in the film, he vents about his own struggles, which include a fear that he might fail to provide for his four children and that he misses opportunities to do so through legal occupations.
Grant said the film is a warning to his younger self, whom he described as young, angry and ignorant when he signed on to gang life.
"If anyone asks me right now if I wanted to be Blood I would say 'No,'" he said. "Not because I denounce my brotherhood or who I am, but because there are options out there for you."
To find out how you can catch a screening of "Five Star" check the Tribeca Film Festival website.