As we wrote in our Sundance Film Festival review of the film, Charm City Kings’ themes that sit at a three-way intersection of teen angst, toxic masculinity deconstruction and racial marginalization” as one of the most impressive films of the year. Months after its world premiere, the film (which is based on the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys) debuted this week on HBO Max. Directed by Angel Manuel Soto, the film stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Teyonah Parris, Will Catlett and Meek Mill.

Here’s the official description: Mouse (Winston) desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, an infamous group of Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax (Mill), takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence.

The film won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at Sundance for its cast, which also includes Donielle Hansley, Kezii Curtis, Chino and Lakeyria “Wheelie Queen” Doughty.

Months after its world premiere, the film (which is based on the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys) debuted this week on HBO Max.

On the film, Winston said, I really loved the simplicity of the story. I loved how complex it was, but it was really about a boy who just wants a bike. He wants validation from his friends, he wants validation from the girl he likes, but most importantly, he wants validation from himself. He’s on this coming-of-age journey to find out where he is and how he fits into the world. That was really appealing to me…for this story to be told from the eyes and from the perspective of a young Black kid.”

Though he and Mouse aren’t exactly the same, he was able to channel his own struggles with self-validation and toxic masculinity into the character. “As an actor, whenever you have to bring about some sort of emotion, it’s always great to use sense memory to channel some real-life experience,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in [or] had an obsession with dirt bike culture before the film [laughs], but I can relate to his passion for the dirt bikes and I can relate to how he wants validation from himself and how he’s trying to prove something to himself and all of those themes of toxic masculinity. I’ve had to deal with and battle [that] in my own life. So I definitely find commonalities and who we are and aside from our circumstances and the cards we were dealt, I think Mouse is really all of us in a way, so he is symbolic for all of us. I loved playing him and I loved being able to bring his story to the forefront.”

Winston was also in awe of the actual dirt bike riders, some of whom were his fellow cast members, performing the stunts. None were done by the kids, though. “There was one scene where they were like, hook me up to a rig and they would pull me out of frame,” said Winston. “But other than that, it was all stunts. I did not [do any stunts]. No child actors were harmed in the process and the filming of the movie [laughs]. But I had a lot of fun watching the actual dirt bike riders, do their thing and seeing them do all of these crazy, extraordinary things with their bodies on these bikes. Like it’s crazy what they’re able to do. They’re like athletes in a way, and it’s really fascinating to watch them work. So, yeah, it was awesome.”

The actor also spoke about the experience of working with Mill, including what surprised him the most about working with the rapper. He’s kind of shy at first meeting…and coy…sort of not soft-spoken, but very mild, energy-wise. I think getting to know him throughout the filming of the movie, it was great to see him sort of step out of that a little bit and just be in the moment. He really wanted to do a great job and I think that comes through when you watch the film. But there was one moment where, it was great to see him just not worry about if [he was] saying the line right [or] if he was delivering it in the right way, but him just being in the moment was really incredible. You know, I almost forgot my line. I was like, ‘Oh wow, he’s really good.’ So yeah, he’s, I think he’s going to impress a lot of people with this role.”

Watch the full interview with Winston and Soto below:

Charm City Kings is streaming now on HBO Max.


Photo: HBO Max