Surviving the Game 

Goldie the Poet's new film premieres at the Parkway.

"Being a drug dealer is fascinating for young people," says Goldie the Poet. The 31-year-old artist and actor should know. Growing up solidly middle-class in Oakland, he was attracted to the material possessions and fast lifestyle that came along with being "in the game," as the drug trade is called. At sixteen, he started slanging crack to be able to afford all the things money could buy: white Fila sneakers, a fly ride, and twenty-inch wire rims. "I sold drugs because it was a trend, it was a fad," he says now.

He found out about the dark side of street life at eighteen, when he was kidnapped and held for ransom to settle a drug debt. But it wasn't until he found himself in the emergency room, after swallowing a mouthful of crack during a police chase, that he realized the error of his ways. Nearly dying from cardiac arrest, as it turned out, was the wake-up call Goldie needed. But others weren't so lucky. As he points out, "the life expectancy of a drug dealer is short." Then there were the tragic victims of crack -- the users themselves, who sometimes lost their jobs, their homes, and their self-respect, for a pocketful of stones. "As I look back, I see the destruction [crack] has caused," he adds.

Goldie's personal experiences are reflected in Heavy in the Game, his first feature film. The 123-minute narrative -- written, directed, produced, and shot on digital video by Goldie -- tells the story of Marvin Holiday, a small-time thug with big-time dreams. After being released from jail, Holiday is working at a car wash when he meets Teddy Ross, a major cocaine dealer. Holiday soon becomes Ross' right-hand man, but trouble ensues after he splits from his mentor and goes into business on his own. Ultimately, Holiday realizes he must leave the game to save his soul, but not before a rival drug dealer puts his sister in the hospital.

Heavy in the Game's most compelling aspect might be its realism, but it's also clear Goldie has a knack for writing ear-catching dialogue. In one memorable scene, Ross thunders at Holiday, "Nigga, if it wasn't for me, you'd still be at Big Daddy's rinsing off hubcaps. I saved your ass from a soap sud that was bigger than you!" The arrogant Ross comes across as a somewhat one-dimensional antagonist, but Holiday is a more complex piece of work. Soft-spoken one minute, violent the next, his determination to better himself is evident from the first frame to the last, even when engaged in morally questionable behavior. While Goldie is aware similar stories have been the basis of the urban drama genre since Boyz N the Hood, he took pains not to simply rehash what's been done before. "I wanted to show some hope," he says, and indeed, the movie ends on a positive note, with Holiday finding Allah.

Besides the familiar Oakland scenery -- one scene was shot in Mingles nightclub -- Heavy in the Game also features an original soundtrack, with cuts by the Delinquents, JT the Bigga Figga, and others, and narrative poetic interludes over what Goldie refers to as "gangsta rap beats." The movie begins with a documentary segment featuring former Oakland mayor Elihu Harris and several Oakland residents talking frankly about the impact of crack on the black community. Goldie added that part, he says, because it was important not to glorify the "baller" lifestyle too much, even in a cautionary tale. "I just wanted to put a fresh twist on it," he says modestly. You can peep excerpts from the film online at HeavyintheGame.com, or, better yet, attend the world premiere, Tuesday, July 29, 9:15 p.m. at the Parkway Theater in -- where else? -- Oakland. 510-814-2400.

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