A Cautionary Tale About Intent

The subject of artificial intelligence has been all over the news in recent months, with much of the coverage (save for what’s in the business/finance pages) presented in an often-troubling, cautionary light. Is this technology as bad as so many contend? Or are we making a mountain out of a proverbial molehill? And, if something were to go wrong, where would the fault truly lie? From these concerns, it’s easy to see how it didn’t take long for this topic to make its way into the world of entertainment, a question explored in the new thought-provoking sci-fi offering, “The Creator” (web site, trailer).

In 2055, after years of uncontrolled growth in the implementation of artificial intelligence, a tremendous tragedy occurs when a nuclear detonation occurs in Los Angeles, one attributed to this technology, that destroys much of the city and kills 1 million people. As a consequence, the US and its Western allies selflessly vow to abandon their use of AI, but their biggest geopolitical rival, New Asia, refuses to follow suit, continuing to make use of it in virtually every conceivable industrial, commercial and military application. New Asia also employs this technology in the creation of sentient robotic beings known as “simulants” who can fulfill a variety of functions, from policing to service industries, often with physical appearances that mimic humans with tremendous fidelity.

Needless to say, given what happened in Los Angeles, Americans feel threatened by New Asia’s continued use of AI. And years of a concerted effort to rebuild the devastated metropolis have only hardened the nation’s resolve to force their Far Eastern counterparts to give up on this technology. So, to bring about this change, the US military has spent years developing initiatives to bring New Asia to its knees on this question. Some of them have been overt, such as building NOMAD, a sophisticated aerial global security system that makes Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative look like a glorified cap gun. Others have been covert, such as the deployment of secret operatives in New Asia to gather intelligence about its AI research and development, identifying its chief scientists and their projects, as well as finding the locations of its R&D laboratories.

Former special forces officer Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) travels from the US to Asia to uncover a potentially devastating weapon powered by artificial intelligence in writer-director Gareth Edwards’s latest feature offering, the sci-fi adventure, “The Creator,” now playing theatrically. Photo © 2023, courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

Heading up the US military’s most secret operation is Sgt. Joshua Taylor (John David Washington), who has been clandestinely scoping out New Asia’s principal research lab, all in hopes of finding Nirmata, the alleged chief architect of the enemy’s AI technology. When not carrying out his covert activities, Joshua lives what appears to be a fairly ordinary life with his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan). However, unbeknownst to Taylor, the US military suspects that his wife may be Nirmata’s daughter, and so, late one evening, an army strike force attacks their home in search of her. But, when Maya learns through this assault that her husband is an undercover operative, she runs off, only to be killed apparently during a NOMAD strike that’s part of the operation.

Taylor manages to survive the attack but is severely maimed. He returns to Los Angeles to recuperate and spends the next five years working on one of the city’s recovery crews, vowing to never again participate in any military operations. However, quite unexpectedly, he’s approached by two army officers, Gen. Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and Col. Howell (Allison Janney), who seek to recruit him for a new assignment overseas. Intelligence reports have revealed that Nirmata has supposedly created a super-weapon of some kind that could devastate the West, one developed at the lab Taylor had been investigating at the time of the military strike on his Asian home. Andrews and Howell want to tap Taylor for the assignment because he’s the only one familiar with the layout of the lab and would make the best candidate for leading an assault on the facility. He reluctantly agrees and before long is making his way back to the place he had hoped to never see again.

The assault on the lab doesn’t go quite as planned, but Taylor successfully manages to make his way into the facility. He quickly determines the location of the secret weapon, but what he finds is entirely unexpected – it’s a robotic child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). She sits in a chair surrounded by toys and watches cartoons. Taylor can hardly believe what he sees. But he also soon discovers that this is no ordinary “child.”

With enemy forces advancing on his location, Taylor flees with the “weapon.” But what comes next? He decides to visit his old friend Drew (Sturgill Simpson), his former commanding officer and an AI expert who lives in the provincial capital. Taylor and the young simulant – whom he calls “Alphie” – thus take off on a perilous cross-country journey with enemy troops and his own surviving colleagues in pursuit, but he manages to make it to the capital unscathed. However, once there, after Drew examines the child, Taylor learns that Alphie has special powers and the ability to expand her capabilities, traits that make her potentially the most powerful weapon in the world – and the most highly sought-after commodity on the planet.

Taylor’s pursuers catch up with him not long thereafter, forcing him and Alphie on the run again. It launches the duo into an odyssey that brings them in touch with an old ally, Harun (Ken Watanabe), a simulant soldier who becomes Alphie’s de facto protector, and a series of surprising revelations about Maya and her past. These developments and others further up the ante for the reluctant fugitives. They must keep moving to avoid capture and to bring to light truths that have long been hidden about Alphie and the reasons for her creation, as well as some dirty little secrets about America’s real interest in suppressing AI technology. Can they survive this ordeal and make these revelations known to the world? Their journey together will ask much of Taylor and Alphie and subject them to a rollercoaster ride of events that constantly place them in peril. Strap in, folks.

“Alphie” (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) may resemble a sweet young girl, but the robotic “simulant” is a potentially powerful super-weapon in disguise, as seen in the new sci-fi adventure, “The Creator,” now playing theatrically. Photo © 2023, courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

There’s a long-held sentiment common in business and scientific circles (among others) that, if we possess the capability and desire to create something, why not do it? But is this truly a wise course to follow? Admittedly, following this path has led to the development of countless products, services and technologies that have made our world a better and more comfortable place. Consider the contributions of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers and many others, just to name a few. But can we say the same of those who wrought nuclear capabilities, dangerous biological and pharmaceutical substances, and advanced weaponry systems? Indeed, just because we can do something, does that necessarily mean we should pursue it? As I wrote in my most recent book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, numerous movies have illustrated the potential issues associated with such manifestations, such as “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Ex Machina” (2014), “Young Frankenstein” (1974) and “Gremlins” (1984). Are these pictures overblown exercises in paranoia, or are they cautionary tales we’d be wise to heed? And, in light of the recent and rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence, do they carry messages that we should apply to the emergence of this new technology?

Much depends on what we believe about the risks and merits of AI, and that’s crucial to consider given the role that our beliefs play in the manifestation of such materializations in our existence. It’s unclear how many of us are aware of this school of thought, but, when we consider all that we’ve achieved as a species, its impact should be fairly apparent – and give us pause to think about how we apply it when charting new turf.

That’s particularly true where our intents are concerned, and it’s a key aspect of the message in “The Creator.” As the film observes, the proponents of artificial intelligence in this story apparently went about applying this technology to virtually everything and seemingly without thinking through the potential consequences, where the ends are assumed to outweigh whatever possible side effects might result from blindly following through on the manifestation of our beliefs. It’s akin to putting on a blindfold and getting behind the wheel of a car before going out for a drive. Who would realistically do that? Yet it’s astounding how often so many of us engage in comparable pursuits. Is that wise for someone playing a creator role in any kind of venture?

NOMAD, a powerful aerial global security system operated by the US military, circles the world in search of threatening targets in writer-director Gareth Edwards’s latest feature offering, the sci-fi adventure, “The Creator,” now playing theatrically. Photo © 2023, courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

Those side effects are especially worrisome, because, no matter how thoroughly we may think we’ve thought things through, there’s always the possibility that we may have overlooked something, such as beliefs that are inherently part of our creations that we don’t recognize. It’s as if such potentially questionable notions come along for the ride without us being aware of them, yet they’re part of the belief mix that goes into the realization of these manifestations. And, because of this, there’s the possibility that they don’t belong there, that they can unwittingly contaminate or undermine the larger materializations that are being sought.

This should be particularly concerning when it comes to their inclusion in something like artificial intelligence, something we assume is based purely on logic and reason. But what if the rationale behind this technology is tainted by beliefs and intents that don’t strictly adhere to the nature of such concepts? What if we inadvertently incorporate notions associated with illogical considerations, such as unchecked emotions or elements of human failings? That’s ultimately not much different from the act of poisoning the well, and, if it’s allowed to be brought into being, it may be difficult to later unscramble the egg, perhaps even resulting in incidents like the seminal event that sets off the storyline in this film. Talk about human error.

One of the points that this picture seriously encourages us to examine can be found right in its title. By developing AI, it’s highly plausible that we take on the role of “creator” in a context not unlike what we find in the religious teachings of the world. The tremendous power of our beliefs and intents in a context like this can indeed be invoked to create something of incredible potency, persistence and influence. And that materialization will invariably be imbued with whatever characteristics we put into it, for better or worse and whether or not we’re aware of all of them. Unfortunately, if something that’s not in our best interests makes its way in, we may not find out about it until it’s too late.

A chilling example of this can be seen in the movie “2010: The Year We Make Contact” (1984), sequel to the cinematic classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). In this follow-up offering, computer scientist Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban) investigates why one of his AI creations, the highly sophisticated HAL 9000 computer, malfunctioned with serious consequences while on a space mission to Jupiter nine years earlier. Through this inquiry, Chandra learns that the computer had been reprogrammed by parties with their own agenda – without his knowledge – to carry out orders that contradicted HAL’s basic software. This change left the computer with a quandary that it was unable to resolve, given that these new instructions violated its programming. This revelation thus prompted Chandra to sadly observe that his creation had been instructed to lie by people who find it easy to lie. That’s truly tragic. And, if something like that could happen in fictional pieces like “2001” and “2010,” who’s to say that it couldn’t happen in a real-life setting as well? “The Creator” seeks to make that very point through its own narrative, and it’s advice we should take to heart.

Col. Howell (Allison Janney) leads a team of special forces soldiers in search of a potentially powerful super-weapon in writer-director Gareth Edwards’s latest feature offering, the sci-fi adventure, “The Creator.” Photo © 2023, courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

When undertaking such endeavors, it’s essential that we recognize the inherent responsibility associated with them, a concept that we as humans often have difficulty embracing. As illustrated here, when artificial intelligence supposedly lets us down, we tend to blame the technology for its failings. But is this fair? After all, who created the technology in the first place? That’s quite a sobering thought – and one that “The Creator” fervently urges us to ponder. That’s especially true now as AI continues to gain a greater foothold in our existence. Let’s hope we have the wisdom to develop it so that it doesn’t do the unthinkable to us. Of course, for that to happen, we have to put in the necessary thought up front to prevent such troubling possibilities from emerging in the first place.

The question of responsibility applies on multiple levels in this film. In addition to the sanctity of the technology’s development, the picture also addresses responsibility from the standpoint of how we apply it, namely, in our intentions related to the sovereignty and sentience of the embodied AI beings we have created. If simulants have genuinely attained their own degree of consciousness, is it fair to prevent them from using it to their fullest capacity, or are they merely to be trained and treated as slaves to serve human needs? Is it responsible of us to create them as sentient beings only to keep them chained for the fulfillment of our own capricious wishes and desires?

Likewise, matters of responsibility are also raised in the nature of diplomatic and economic relations between America and New Asia. Is the conflict between them really based on the existence of AI technology, or is this a proxy excuse for something more clandestine and insidious, such as which of these powers is destined to come out on top as the alpha dog of the world? What’s more, can the supposedly ethical Americans be relied upon to keep their word to the planet about their alleged abandonment of artificial intelligence? For instance, their NOMAD global security system sure doesn’t look like it’s run on punch cards and floppy disks. Indeed, how sincere is their intent to this commitment? And, to boot, isn’t it possible that such insincere intents can make their way into the programming of this and other comparable technologies? Where is the responsibility in that?

It’s important to recognize and honestly address all of the foregoing considerations. If we don’t, the applications we create from employing tainted intents could seriously come back to bite us in our collective posteriors. Is that progress? Is that what this technology is all about? If we can’t answer those questions truthfully, maybe we’d better go back and review and revise our thinking.

Harun (Ken Watanabe), a onetime robotic warrior, becomes a de facto protector for a specially gifted “child” who’s being sought by an array of pursuers in a war zone in “The Creator,” now playing theatrically. Photo © 2023, courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

The development of artificial intelligence has given us much to think about. Writer-director Gareth Edwards’s latest feature offering covers a great deal of ground related to the subject technologically, ethically and geopolitically, providing viewers with a poignant metaphor for all of these areas, the examination of which grows progressively stronger and more impressive as the story plays out. However, in the film’s prologue and opening act, the narrative comes across like a somewhat uninspired amalgamation of sci-fi tropes culled from an array of other movies and TV series, including “Blade Runner” (1982), “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), “Oblivion” (2013), “I, Robot” (2004), “Midnight Special” (2016), “The Terminator” franchise and the rebooted version of Battlestar Gallactica (2004-2009), among others. Also, the story, much of which consists of an involved high-stakes pursuit, is overly stretched out at times, a plot element that could have been improved upon with some judicious editing. To its credit, though, the picture features excellent special effects, a fair amount of smartly written comic relief and a surprisingly good cast for a sci-fi release (particularly Washington and youthful newcomer Voyles, despite the serious miscasting of Janney for a role for which she’s ill-suited). “The Creator” is indeed more insightful and thought-provoking than what many of its detractors have said, though it’s understandable how its periodic lapses in originality and inventiveness may be seen as undermining these strengths. Nevertheless, these shortcomings should be taken with a grain of salt, and the film should be given a fair shot for what it has to say about something that’s becoming an increasingly more significant aspect of our lives, something that we had better to learn to understand and live with if we hope to make friends with it as part of our existence going forward. The film is playing theatrically.

Famed author and visionary Arthur C. Clarke once observed, “As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying.” He illustrated that point in his own works, “2001” and “2010,” and director Edwards echoes those notions here. If those sentiments keep coming up in the zeitgeist as often as they do, then maybe they’re something worth listening to while we still have the time, opportunity and wherewithal to do so.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

New Movies for Fall

Join yours truly and show host Frankie Picasso for looks at four new films in the upcoming fall movie review edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast! The show, to begin airing Thursday November 2 at 1 pm ET, will also wrap up the highlights from two recently completed film festivals. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!

Wrapping Up Two Film Festivals


Film festival season is in full swing, and two that I attended are now in the books – the 41st annual Chicago Reeling International LGBTQ+ Film Festival and the 59th annual Chicago International Film Festival. So what did I think? Check out my blogs on the subject, “Wrapping Up Reeling 2023” and “Wrapping Up the 2023 Chicago Film Festival”, to find out more about the 16 new films that I screened at these events. Detailed reviews of some of my favorites will follow in upcoming blogs, including one that appears below.

Reaching for the Stars


We all have aspirations we’d love to see fulfilled. Much depends, of course, on how diligent, committed and enthusiastic we are at putting in the legwork to see things through. But perhaps even more important is how strongly we believe in the dream’s realization. If that’s not in place, the rest of this effort may fade away over time or not fall into place at all. So how determined are we when it comes to the strength of our faith and conviction? That’s the question raised in an inspiring new fact-based biopic about an ambitious young boy who strives to overcome the formidable odds seemingly stacked against him, “A Million Miles Away”  (web site, trailer)

Young José Hernández (Juan Pablo Monterrubio) underwent a difficult childhood. As a Mexican-American migrant farm worker harvesting crops in California, he travelled from location to location in search of job opportunities with his father, Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo), his mother, Julia (Veronica Falcón), and his cousin, Beto (Leonardo Granados). The work was hard, and he grew to dislike it, especially since the upheaval of constant relocations kept him from being able to acquire a proper education. But, while attending one of the many schools he encountered in the course of his travels, he met a teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec), who recognized and actively encouraged his talents and ambitions, particularly his interest in space science and his desire to reach for the stars – literally.

Dissatisfied with his challenging way of life, young migrant farm worker José Hernández (Juan Pablo Monterrubio, right) receives encouraging words of inspiration about how to live out his dreams from his father, Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo, left), in the new fact-based biopic, “A Million Miles Away.” Photo by Daniel Daza, © 2023 Amazon Content Services LLC, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

However, as someone who came from such an economically challenged background, how could José realistically see his dream of becoming an astronaut realized? Thankfully, Miss Young’s encouragement, his cousin Beto’s ongoing support and his avid viewing of moon landing TV coverage did much to inspire him. But perhaps José’s greatest inspiration came from his father, who told him he could achieve anything as long as he had a plan in place to do so. Salvador outlined a five-point program that José embraced and put into practice, one that eventually enabled his older self (Michael Peña) to move ahead with his objective.

Having successfully earned a college degree as an engineer, José landed a position at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. But, even with such a prestigious pedigree to his name, he initially faced his share of challenges in this environment. After all, in those days, minority professionals were still few and far between in organizations like that. He was even initially assumed by some to be a new member of the facility’s custodial staff. However, through a string of fortuitous synchronicities in which he was able to demonstrate his considerable expertise, he managed to get noticed and steadily began rising through the ranks of the engineering staff. That kind of attention subsequently helped open the door to NASA, which, in turn, put him in touch with opportunities to try out for the astronaut training program.

Joining the astronaut training corps was easier said than done, however. José soon learned that he needed more skills than just his engineering background and accomplishments at Livermore. He needed to develop additional aptitudes educationally, as well as the state of his physical condition. This wasn’t easy given the fact that he was now getting older and was attempting to do all this while holding a full-time job and being a husband and father of five. His 11 applications to the astronaut training program were all rejected, raising doubts whether he’d ever qualify for admission.

Encouraging words from an observant teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec, right), do much to help inspire impressionable young student José Hernández (Juan Pablo Monterrubio, left) in writer-director Alejandra Márquez Abella’s new fact-based biopic, “A Million Miles Away,” available for streaming online. Photo by Daniel Daza, © 2023 Amazon Content Services LLC, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

José’s pursuit of his goal led to strain in his family life as well. His wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar), became frustrated that she had to shoulder the lion’s share of the household duties and that her dreams of opening a restaurant of her own were continually put on the back burner. These difficulties and the potential costs to his marriage prompted him to wonder whether the dream was worth it. But, when Adela confronted him about continuing his quest, she agreed to go along with it as long as he remained serious about it – and that, if he wasn’t, he should give it up for good. With his wife’s renewed support and the ongoing encouragement of his family (most notably his grown-up cousin Beto (Bobby Soto)), José forged ahead.

After his many denials, José decided to take a different approach when it came to submitting his 12th application: He hand-delivered it in person to Clint Logan (Eric Johnson), the NASA official in charge of reviewing candidate applications. That kind of ambition – the sort of “can do” attitude that had come to characterize the space agency over the years – won over Logan, despite José’s long string of rejections. He was thus accepted into the program. But, with so many participants selected for training, there was still no guarantee that he would be chosen to go into space.

The training that José underwent was just as arduous (if not more so) than anything he endured in preparing for the program. But, once again, he had support to keep him motivated, especially Kalpana Chawla (Sarayu Blue), a former Space Shuttle crew member now in charge of overseeing candidate training. She recognized José’s gumption and urged him to remain vigilant, telling him that there was nothing like seeing Earth from the heavens above. Her words inspired him, especially when she added that she had been selected for a return to space aboard a flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia scheduled for early 2003.

Engineer-turned-astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña, right) courts his future wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar, left), in the inspiring new biopic, “A Million Miles Away,” available for streaming online. Photo by Daniel Daza, © 2023 Amazon Content Services LLC, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Through all of his training, the exhilaration of space flight kept José going. But the Columbia disaster in which his friend Kalpana was killed opened his eyes to the potential dangers involved in such ventures. It also raised new doubts for Adela, who wanted to see her husband’s dream realized but did not want him to perish because of it. And, with the Space Shuttle program put on hold after the Columbia’s tragic re-entry accident, it was unclear if José would ever get to reach for the stars.

Still, José remained hopeful, despite the many delays, the anguish of losing his friend and his wife’s concerns. And, somewhat unexpectedly, he eventually got his shot in 2008, when he was named a mission specialist for an August 2009 flight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. It was a long journey from the California migrant worker camps to the International Space Station. But it’s proof that dreams can indeed come true as long as we believe in them – and make the effort to see them realized.

The significance of this film should be plainly apparent from the nature of its storyline – how to successfully live one’s dream, particularly when it involves rising above one’s circumstances. It’s the classic underdog narrative put on display. And it illustrates the importance of the power of our beliefs, something we should not lose sight of given the role that they play in the manifestation of our existence. It’s unclear how many of us are familiar with this line of thinking, but examples like those of José Hernández should serve to show us how it works and how we can employ it in our own lives, no matter what our dreams may be.

Astronaut candidate José Hernández (Michael Peña, right) receives words of encouragement from Space Shuttle crew member-turned-astronaut trainer Kalpana Chawla (Sarayu Blue, left) in writer-director Alejandra Márquez Abella’s new fact-based biopic, “A Million Miles Away.” Photo by Daniel Daza, © 2023 Amazon Content Services LLC, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Considering where José began his life and where he ended up, he indeed traveled a million miles, both metaphorically and literally, from where he started. And that journey was fueled to a great degree by the beliefs propelling his odyssey. In light of that, there’s much to be said for the power and persistence behind the intents that got him there. Even at those times when he was tempted to give up, the reinforcement of those beliefs – thanks to the fortification of his own resolve and the encouragement of others – kept him going.

This is crucial to bear in mind when we may feel like abandoning our aspirations. As those seeking to fulfill their aspirations are well aware, doubt, fear and contradiction are the forces that can most readily undercut the functioning of this process. However, by vanquishing those potentially undermining influences, we can keep going, as José’s experience so clearly shows.

As uplifting tales of inspiration and motivation, movies about underdogs and beating the odds have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially when based on true stories. And this latest Amazon Prime Video production is yet another offering to come out of that genre. Writer-director Alejandra Márquez Abella’s biopic chronicles the impressive journey of a migrant farm worker-turned-astronaut. The film provides a comprehensive view of this unlikely hero’s life from his often-disrupted childhood to his impressive space-faring explorations, an uphill battle during which the odds were often stacked against him, both professionally and as a dutiful husband, father and son. It’s a moving story, the kind of picture that makes a good viewing choice for impressionable, wide-eyed grade school students with big dreams of their own.

It’s a long way from California’s migrant farm worker camps to the International Space Station, as astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña) discovers for himself in the new fact-based biopic, “A Million Miles Away.” Photo by Daniel Daza, © 2023 Amazon Content Services LLC, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

However, despite these strengths, the film has some issues working against it. The narrative is rather formulaic in its storytelling approach, precisely hitting all of the requisite high and low points in just the right amounts and at just the right times, making the story somewhat predictable, at times blatantly so. The screenplay also takes some liberties with the timeline of actual events, despite its contention of being fact-based. And the picture is also a little on the long side; in its sincere attempt to be thorough, it sometimes incorporates so much detail that the story’s more incidental moments start to bog down the flow of the film. To its credit, though, this release also has its delightful moments of unexpected humor and features fine performances by its capable cast, even if the material they’ve been given to work with at times seems a little conventional. “A Million Miles Away” is certainly an enjoyable watch, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t quite feel like you’ve been rocketed into orbit by the picture’s end.

In an age as cynical as ours can be at times these days, it’s refreshing to still have inspiring, heroic stories out there that uplift us and give us encouragement for the fulfillment of our dreams. We may not all have aspirations as big as those of this film’s protagonist, but it’s comforting to know that the message of this picture can trickle down to each of us in our own respective ways. Reaching for the stars need not be a literal objective, but the metaphor may well be enough for many of us – and its fulfillment can be just as satisfying in the end.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Hope for the Future

Regrettably, convincing idealism is an increasingly rare commodity in political circles these days. With so many politicians looking out for themselves and their cronies, it’s become difficult to find those we can genuinely trust. Indeed, how are we supposed to put our faith in what they say? Every so often, though, there are those who come along who appear to defy such low expectations. These charismatic individuals tend to exude authenticity, usually because they’ve emerged out of circumstances comparable to those being experienced by their constituents. And that relatability, in turn, generates believability among voters and the hope that these figures can accomplish in office what they profess to do during their campaigns. That’s the kind of credibility to come out of the new film biography of a possible rising star in the political world, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn” (web site, trailer)

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-PA) may not be a household name as yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be at some point. The native of north Philadelphia, who was elected to the Keystone State’s legislature from his home district, is the first openly gay person of color to serve in the Commonwealth’s statehouse. And, because of the solid, enthusiastic, grass roots support he has generated among voters, he’s being looked upon as someone with a promising political future, primarily because he appears to be the real deal, someone whom people believe they can trust.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta walks the streets of the north Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up, and whose political district he now represents in the Pennsylvania statehouse, as depicted in director Timothy Harris’s new documentary, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Photo by Timothy Harris, courtesy of Seven Knots/Xpedition/Al Roker Entertainment.

That support is largely driven by his outspoken nature, someone who’s not afraid to say his piece and does so with a no-nonsense yet eloquent, highly articulate manner. What’s more, given his working class upbringing, he can relate to the kinds of challenges faced by the economically challenged constituents in his district. He knows what they’re experiencing, because he’s had to contend with such issues himself. And, considering his sexual orientation and minority status, he has had to fight for recognition on these fronts, something that has steeled his resolve to push for the rights that he and others in the LGBTQ+ and African-American communities have been denied but deserve. He advocates passionately in these areas, insisting that everyone should have access to life’s basic necessities and equal rights without having to struggle to simply get by.

That kind of activism is in Kenyatta’s blood, too. His grandfather, Muhammed Kenyatta (born Donald Brooks Jackson, 1944-1992), was an ardent civil rights advocate and an organizer for the Head Start program, which provided early childhood education and health care services to impoverished minority children and their families. It’s an influence that apparently rubbed off on the younger Kenyatta, who became an organizer of student protests against educational budget cuts while he was in college. Subsequently, in 2017, at the age of 27, he announced his plan to run for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, an election he handily won a year later, becoming one of the youngest candidates ever to win and serve in the state’s legislature.

Kenyatta endured some homophobic pushback during the primary associated with that first campaign, but it ended up not having much impact in the general election, where he captured a whopping 95% of the vote. He sees himself as an out-and-proud gay man, empowered in who he is and in his relationship with husband Matthew Jordan-Miller Kenyatta. The duo quite obviously has a deeply loving partnership, as evidenced in scenes of their everyday personal life and from their joyous wedding ceremony. This footage thus reveals yet another aspect of Kenyatta’s authenticity that has consequently translated into avid support from his followers.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta makes the case for his US Senate bid during the 2022 midterm election, as seen in the new biographical documentary, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Photo courtesy of Seven Knots/Xpedition/Al Roker Entertainment.

In 2021, Kenyatta made the decision to tap into the wellspring of goodwill he had built up by making a run for the US Senate from Pennsylvania in the 2022 midterm election. This campaign makes up the bulk of the film, showing the candidate in efforts to ambitiously widen his name recognition on a larger political stage. It documents the challenges the candidate faced with financial difficulties, exaggerated questions of electability, biased punditry and media coverage, and a lack of support from his own party’s officials, including in his home district of Philadelphia. Nevertheless, these obstacles did not stop Kenyatta from soldiering on with his own style of out-and-proud, shoot-from-the-hip style of politicking, especially against his two better-known, better-financed, more widely recognized Caucasian opponents, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and US Rep. Conor Lamb, both of whom bested him in the Democratic primary. But Kenyatta’s loss in the Senate race didn’t knock him out of politics. His name remained on the ballot for State Representative, running unopposed and handily winning reelection, where he continues to serve. And, since completion of the film, he has announced his candidacy to run in the 2024 statewide election to become Pennsylvania’s Auditor General.

What’s perhaps most inspiring about Kenyatta’s story, though, is his beliefs in his abilities, his ambitions, his policies and himself, qualities that come through loud and clear in this documentary. And those traits, in turn, have become beliefs in him in the minds of supporters, including those outside his home state, such as filmmaker Lee Daniels, who hosted a fundraiser for Kenyatta during his Senate campaign with the backing of Hollywood influencers. It’s no wonder Kenyatta is being looked on as a rising star in his party, someone whose name is likely to be around for a while, both in Pennsylvania and beyond its borders.

Kenyatta’s perspective has served him well. The beliefs underlying his outlook have brought him political success at a young age, as well as increasing name recognition for his future. And, in his personal life, his commitment to living authentically has led to what appears to be a loving and happy relationship. But, perhaps most importantly, his beliefs have generated a growing level of support among his constituency, one that holds the potential to pay dividends for them and their way of life and, in turn, the politician’s own future.

The significance of these beliefs can’t be emphasized enough in light of the role they play in the manifestation of his existence, just as they do for all of us. It’s not apparent whether Kenyatta has heard of this school of thought, but, given the sincerity of his intentions and the track record that has come from them, it would seem he’s well practiced in its principles and their application.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (right) shares an intimate meal with his husband, Matthew (left), during his 2022 US Senate campaign in director Timothy Harris’s new documentary, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Photo courtesy of Seven Knots/Xpedition/Al Roker Entertainment.

Considering Kenyatta’s accomplishments thus far, he’s achieved an impressive record of success, even though not all of his ambitions have been realized as yet, such as his campaign for the US Senate. Nevertheless, the experience gained from such an endeavor provides beneficial life lessons for how to carry out future undertakings. He can thus build on that information in fine-tuning his beliefs for the opportunities that emerge down the line. He’s young, after all, and few of us attain our biggest achievements in our initial attempts. However, the wisdom that comes from such experiences frequently enables us to hone our beliefs and the skills that come out of them in tackling those greater challenges.

The strength of Kenyatta’s sustained resolve is especially noteworthy, another product of his beliefs. He’s zealously committed to his platform but also to encouraging others to follow his lead. In fact, as evidenced by one of his speeches in the film, he passionately urges his supporters to step up and take their rightful place. While he freely acknowledges the social and political progress that members of the minority and LGBTQ+ communities have made over the years, he also makes it clear that those who have come out of backgrounds like his shouldn’t have to sit back and wait for the opportunities to be bestowed upon them. He believes that such individuals should willingly step forward to pursue what they contend is theirs. In essence, as the picture’s subtitle espouses, he issues the rallying cry, “Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Indeed, patience may be a virtue, but there comes a time when it can run out, no matter how much belief support it may have.

One of the assets that will undoubtedly help him – just as with any charismatically inspiring leader – is the growth in support he has received from his followers. In the end, they play just as important a part as he does in the attainment of his success. By working with him, they’re also working for themselves in the pursuit of their shared objectives. And this is possible because of the beliefs they have in him, his platform and the goodwill he generates, a prime example of an act of meaningful collaboration. By joining forces and working together in this way, they have an enhanced opportunity for seeking the fulfillment of their mutual goals. This is indeed a win-win situation for all.

Given the challenges that Kenyatta and other politicians like him face in their ventures, one might wonder why they would willingly take on such arduous pursuits. But, as becomes apparent through this film, Kenyatta does so because he genuinely believes that it’s the right thing to do, an expression of the destiny he’s meant to live out, what some practitioners of this thinking call their value fulfillment. As depicted here, Kenyatta appears committed to his goals – and to the good that they can provide to all of his constituents and, maybe one day, to all of us.

While on one of his campaign stops during his 2022 US Senate bid, Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta shows why he’s one of today’s top political orators in the new documentary, “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.” Photo courtesy of Seven Knots/Xpedition/Al Roker Entertainment.

In an age when politicians on both sides of the aisle are increasingly being seen as incompetent, self-serving and inauthentic, it’s refreshing to learn about one who apparently defies all of those traits, and viewers can now learn more about this inspiring individual in director Timothy Harris’s excellent debut documentary feature. The film charts the obstacles its protagonist has faced, but it also shows that he’s more than just a politician. This profile showcases that he’s also an individual whose experiences, upbringing and personal life have shaped his policies and the apparent authenticity of his message, one driven by compassion, heartfelt sincerity and a growing intolerance of a system that seems hellbent on preserving a status quo that’s ever more exclusionary than not. This well-balanced, superbly integrated approach makes for excellent documentary filmmaking, giving audiences a comprehensive view of its subject and reason to see why he could easily be looked on as a rising star in American politics, one who speaks for many who don’t feel that their voices are being heard by the current establishment. Executive Producer Al Roker and his colleagues have created an insightful, uplifting watch, one that may actually give us some bona fide hope for the future of the nation’s politics – not to mention the nation itself.

Finding this film may be a little difficult at present, given that it’s primarily been playing the LGBTQ+ and documentary film festival circuits. However, considering that Kenyatta is gearing up for another campaign and the fact that the production has the backing of a high-profile executive producer like The Today Show’s Al Roker, it’s hard to imagine this release not receiving wider distribution at some point. Check the film’s web site for updates.

Some viewers might claim that this picture is little more than a piece of liberal political propaganda, and, admittedly, that’s an argument that could be seen as having some merit. However, given the deplorable state of American politics at the moment at virtually every level of government and leadership, we can use all of the help we can get, particularly when it comes to inspired solutions that can cut through the clutter, nonsense and juvenile partisanship that keep our society locked in place and mired in its problems with little hope of resolution. And, because of that, we should keep our options – and our minds – open to look for ways to make progress happen. The least we can do is listen to what visionaries like Kenyatta have to say in the hope that they can help lead us out of our current circumstances. There’s too much riding on this not to do so.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.