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1982 portrays a family's struggle coping with life and drugs

Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This Thursday, Carnegie Mellon University hosted a screening of the movie 1982, a film written, produced, and directed by Carnegie Mellon alumnus Tommy Oliver. The film has been shown in film festivals throughout North America, such as the Austin Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival, and the Toronto Film Festival, and is based on the director’s own childhood experiences.

The film is set in Philadelphia in the year 1982. 1982 is the start of the crack epidemic in Philly” said Oliver, when asked about his title choice. The movie centers around a man named Tim Brown, who desperately tries to keep his family together as his wife enters a downward spiral due to a crack cocaine addiction.

The movie begins by showing us a loving, intact family. Their care for one another is clear, until the mother falls back into her addiction. She disappears from the house, leaving Tim and Maya, the daughter, to fend for themselves. The audience never learns of the mother’s actions while she is out of the house, a nod to Oliver’s own childhood, where he never knew what his mother was up to while she was gone. Shenae, the mother in the movie, comes back from time to time, such as when she spoils her daughter’s birthday and steals her presents for drug money, or when she refuses to support Tim’s story and as a result he is taken to jail. After Tim confronts Shenae’s drug dealer Alonzo, played by Wayne Brady, Alonzo commits a drive-by shooting of Tim’s workplace, regardless of the fact that Maya was actually in the building. Maya survives, and the trauma from the near-death of her daughter causes Shenae to realize the toll of her actions on her family. The movie ends on a slightly optimistic note with Shenae entering rehabilitation to attempt to beat her addiction.

The movie pulls at the heart strings of the viewer, showing one man doing whatever he can to keep his family intact and undergoing hardships that are often hard to watch. Oliver paints a portrait of this era and the debilitating effects it had on the population by telling the story of this one very brave man.

After the film came to a close, Oliver hosted a question and answer session with the audience. He addressed several of the issues he faced when creating this movie, first and foremost the budget constraint. Without the resources of a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster, Oliver had to be creative and cut costs where he could. Nowadays, with the increased availability of camera equipment and less expensive resources, it is “both easier and harder to make a film,” Oliver said. While there is more opportunity to create films on a small budget, many others also have the same opportunity, which increases the competition.

One thing that Tommy Oliver stressed in one of his responses was his desire to make movies that have meaning. Oliver seeks projects that he is passionate about, or that he knows will resonate with the audience. Oliver is particularly passionate about the movie 1982, as it is based on his own childhood experiences. They even chose the set of the film to be the exact neighborhood that Oliver grew up in. There are, however, some major differences between Oliver’s own childhood and the events and settings shown in 1982. Oliver changed the gender of the child in the story, so Maya, played by new actress Troi Zee, is female. Oliver also introduced the father character, a figure who was absent as Oliver was growing up on the streets of Philadelphia.

In addition, Oliver discussed the jump from the business world to the film industry. Graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in economics and digital media, Oliver entered the work force at Microsoft in Seattle, where he felt like “a hair on a cog of a cog.” Working at such a large company left him feeling like he wasn’t making as large of an impact as he should have been, so he left Microsoft and began focusing on his film career. Oliver has since produced multiple movies such as The Perfect Guy, Kinyarwanda, and Black Eyed Dog. 1982 is the first feature-length film that Oliver has directed.

Finally, Oliver discussed the pressures of creating a film with a black male lead. Many major film studios are unwilling to create a film with a black lead without labeling it a “black movie,” stated Oliver. Oliver argues that his movies are simply movies about people, not necessarily black people. His distaste for the category of “black film” was apparent, as was his determination to not be placed within the constricting boundaries of that category.
Oliver currently has a deal with Lionsgate, and has plans to release more films in the near future.