“When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story,” tells the tragic story of Falicia Blakely (played by actress/rapper Lil Mama), a teen mom who grows up in the fast lane. Falicia lives with her mother, a woman who never quite got her life together and drifts in and out of abusive relationships.
Falicia picks up a job at a local strip club, so that she can save up enough money to move out with her daughter and start a life of their own. When she becomes a highly sought after exotic dancer, she attracts the attention of Dino (played by Lance Gross), a local pimp and predator. His promises of a life together turn Falicia into a pawn in a dangerous game. Ultimately, she’s forced to prove her love for him at the expense of innocent lives.
The real-life Falicia Blakely is currently serving life in prison.
Lil Mama is well cast in the lead role as Falicia Blakely. She’s been honing her skills for the past four years—most notably as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story”—and, though she may not win awards for this role, there’s a natural vulnerability about her that makes her infinitely watchable. She comes across as naïve and earnest, though sometimes cold-blooded, against the polished, uber-masculine Gross, whose role as Falicia’s customer-turned-boyfriend-turned-pimp is as sinister as it is brilliant.
To its credit, “When Love Kills” moves along really fast. The story of a down-on-her-luck single mother trying to make it, while getting caught up in drama and violence, is gripping and compelling. It’s well written and unfolds organically, with strong performances, camera work, storytelling, and pacing that build to a feverish, twist ending.
The debut feature film of veteran actress Tasha Smith (“Empire”), the film showcases Smith’s sharp directorial instincts, masterful shots, and nuanced storytelling. Matched with solid, authentic writing from Cas Sigers-Beedles (“Welcome to the Family” and “Girlfriends Getaway” 1 & 2), this film is an absolute revelation.
It’s a wonder Smith has only previously directed a short film—“Boxed In,” about a black man struggling with bipolar disorder. You get the feeling she’s been biding her time, waiting for the right vehicle to showcase her directing chops. All of her choices are solid—except, perhaps, the casting of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., whose cloud of domestic violence allegations might limit the film’s marketability. But as TV One’s first original movie, the audience may be somewhat baked in. (Shadow and Act covered the project’s announcement here.)
That it’s based on a tragic true story—with end-credit mug shots of the real-life Falicia and her accomplice Pumpkin, over Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You”—was the bittersweet icing on the cake.
Sigers-Beedles first became intrigued about Falicia’s story after reading an article online. At the age of sixteen, Falicia left home hoping to make a better life than the one she left behind. Becoming an exotic dancer seemed like an easy way to make money. She refused to sleep with her clients; however, one night after meeting a local pimp, everything in her life changed.
Falicia was quickly swept away by his charm and within weeks, they were inseparable. He didn’t mind that Falicia was a dancer. In fact, he encouraged her to continue, so that they could have enough money to leave the city and start a new life. He wanted her to make more. And if sleeping with a few clients meant a better life for her new family, she would make the sacrifice.
When he suggested she started robbing her johns, she agreed. The third time, he sent her to a home and when she opened the door, she saw her friend. With her child in her pimp’s protection, it was kill or be killed. So, at 19, Falicia became a murderer.
Sigers-Beedles did research, went to visit, and started penning the script back in 2004, though funding for the project materialized 10 years later. The resulting film is a testament both to the tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit.
“When Love Kills” is a film to watch at the 21st American Black Film Festival. A Q&A with director Tasha Smith, Lance Gross, Lil Mama, and Tami Roman will immediately follow the screening on Thursday, June 15.