By Melinda Clemmons
In the warmly lit opening frame of the film, a young man leans in, listening intently to soulful music streaming from a laptop. As the song ends, someone beside him says, “I love it.” “Yeah?” the young man asks, his face glowing with pride and excitement.
In these opening moments of “Different Stories,” the new documentary short from producer Zimbabwe Davies and director Alan Kimara Dixon, Drake McCarthy is sharing one of his original musical compositions with Davies.
The film premiered at a September 2018 screening hosted in Oakland, Calif., by nonprofit foster youth service provider Beyond Emancipation (B:E), where Davies has been a residential counselor for more than 10 years.
This scene sets up a recurring theme of the film: Young people who have experienced foster care have powerful artistic creations and complex stories to share, and having them heard is empowering beyond measure.
We soon learn that McCarthy was placed in foster care — eventually residing in 36 foster homes and eight group homes — after his mother became too ill to care for him. Having recently survived cancer, McCarthy is now building a music career and aims to become a foster youth advocate to help other youth find their passions.
“Different Stories,” which is available now for screenings and will soon be available on Vimeo, is a follow-up to Davies’ and Dixon’s first film, “Enter a Challenger, Exit a Champion,” which told the story of Davies’ own life before, during and after the years he spent in foster care. Davies had seen a lot of stories about foster care that focused on the challenges, he told The Chronicle of Social Change when that movie came out in 2015, but he hadn’t seen many success stories.
He made “Enter a Challenger,” he said, to “give young people hope that could lead to change.” In an interview with Fostering Families Today two days before his new film’s premier, Davies said with that first film he “wanted to give back, tell my story, so other young people would be comfortable to tell their stories.”
To that end, in “Different Stories,” Davies turns the camera on three young people, all in their twenties, who are on the other side of their foster care experiences, each doing what Davies aims for the film to show: “finding their passion and diving in to meet the challenge.”
McCarthy, along with Ruthie Price and Chris West, the other two subjects of the film, share their stories directly, with little other narration. Their experiences in foster care vary starkly, with McCarthy describing feeling disrespected and “like a paycheck” in his foster homes while West says his foster parents were “beautiful human beings” with whom he remains close.
Price unflinchingly describes the pain of foster care, yet when asked how she feels about her foster mother, she doesn’t hesitate to say, “I love her to death.”
It was her foster mother who bought Price her first drum kit when she was 6 years old after she broke a coffee table while drumming on it. “Music saved my life,” she says. Now a professional musician who has toured internationally, Price is seen in the film playing a rousing set on stage at San Francisco’s famed Black Cat Club.
West is shown teaching his young son the alphabet and tenderly helping him button his shirt.
“I’m going to show him there’s nothing you can’t do in this world as long as you’ve got good people around you, and good supporters,” West says of his son. “I’m going to keep striving for him while he strives for himself.”
In addition to wanting the film to give hope and inspiration to young people in foster care, Davies aims for his films to impact everyone who works with and cares about them. He wants to change the public perceptions about foster youth, who are often viewed, he says, “as charity cases instead of as young people who have a lot of strengths.”
“I want young people not only to survive but to thrive, and jump into the best version of themselves,” Davies said. “They’ve already gone through a lot of challenges. Often we don’t realize how strong we are until we sit back and reflect on what we’ve been through, and then we think, ‘If I’ve been through this I can shift that energy and put it into something I love and share it with the world.’”
Melinda Clemmons is a freelance writer and editor based in Oakland, California.