WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A documentary that covers the transformation of a group of LGBTQ teens from Washington, D.C. from a gang to a group of fashion entrepreneurs is gaining international exposure.
Check It, a documentary by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, follows the group, called Check It, starting in 2012.
The group was formed in 2005 as a means of protection from harassment.
"It used to be all types of bullying and we could not walk the street without fighting and, like, protecting ourselves," said group co-founder, Star Bennett, who added that it gave them a feeling of safety. "It felt like we had power. It felt good. We didn’t have to walk around with fear."
But the group turned more into a gang, a many of the members ended up in prison. Bennett said she had had enough in 2012.
"We gotta, like, do something to change our life around. Then Ron Moten came and he stuck with us," she added. Moten is a community activist who became a mentor to the group and helped them move beyond criminal activity.
"It’s been a rollercoaster," said Moten when discussing what the challenges were like working with the group early on. "You got to understand, you're dealing with hurt people...You’re mentoring and dealing with people that have been hurt, you gotta absorb a lot of they pain and that’s not always easy."
The group’s path forward became fashion and Moten said the watershed moment for him was when Check It held a fashion show in 2012.
"We admit, sometimes, that we are not always productive and positive towards ourself and our community. We are asking you to forgive our past and look at our bright future that won’t happen over night and is a work in progress," said Check It members in a video from that fashion show.
That "work in progress" paid off last month, when Check It opened up its own fashion boutique in Southeast D.C.
"There is nothing more gratifying to have happen to me than to see the Check It realize their dreams and open this store," said Flor. "These kids live on the margin of society and they shouldn’t. So, I want to introduce people to a situation that really shouldn’t be happening in the nation’s capital."
The documentary even attracted celebrity supporters, like Louis C.K. and Steve Buscemi.
"The film knocked me out, it’s so good," said C.K. in a video promoting the documentary on his website. "It’s a complex film. I still think about it all the time. So I wanted to give you the opportunity to see it."
The documentary will be screened Friday night at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and includes a panel discussion afterwards. Flor said she hopes the film is used as a platform to start a conversation about in important issues.
"There’s communities like the Check It everywhere. They’re all around the world. So the film can help begin a dialogue that’s really necessary," added Flor.