Ekaj: A Harsh Reality For LGBTQ Throwaways
The search for love
Ekaj, played by the inordinately pretty Jake Mestre, is a Puerto Rican LGBTQ homeless kid wandering the streets of New York. Forced out of his home by a bigoted, abusive father, he is compelled to steal and prostitute himself to get by.
Ekaj longs for love. Any love. Mostly the kind he never got from his parents growing up. Love is the one bright spot of hope in his stridulous life. However with no one, not even his parents, able to show him what real love actually is, he inadvertently and expectedly descends into the pitfalls of the young and innocent.
In his day to day struggle to survive, Ekaj comes upon Mecca, a tattooed, HIV-infected addict and gay prostitute played by Badd Idea. Though he looks tough at first glance, Mecca is actually incredibly sweet with a great sense of humor. The two have similar ethnic backgrounds and get along almost immediately. Mecca sets Ekaj up with some food, alcohol and a temporary place to stay. As they begin to understand the depths of their similarities, the young men forge a true bond.
While hanging out on the street another day, Ekaj meets Johnny, an unscrupulous artist played by Scooter La Forge. As expected by an unloved young person, Ekaj misconstrues Johnny’s interest in him as potential love. Ekaj imagines that this is the man that is going to sweep him up and rescue him and projects his own desires onto Johnny. Johnny, in reality, is broken and incapable of love. He sees Ekaj as an object to dominate and control. But since Ekaj is so desperate for any kind of affection, he puts up with anything, even physical abuse, to hang on to the relationship.
In the meantime, Mecca does everything he can to feed them and secure their future, but he is dying and also a lost soul. The unfortunate reality is their relationship becomes something more like the blind leading the blind and a race against the reaper. Will Ekaj be able to find hope and move on in the face of his dire circumstances and his only friend’s death?
The Ugly reality
According to a 2017 article in the Washington Post, up to 1.6 million young people experience homelessness every year. 40% identify as LGBTQ. That is an astounding amount considering the overall LGBTQ population in the United States was estimated to be only 7% in 2012. Of these homeless youth, “46 percent of homeless LGBT youths ran away because of family rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 43 percent were forced out by parents, and 32 percent faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home”.
A 2017 University of Chicago study found that LGBTQ youth had a 120 times higher risk of homelessness compared to cisgender, heterosexual youth. It’s also no surprise that the majority of these homeless kids are disproportionately people of color. They also suffer higher rates of suicide, sexual and physical assault, incarceration and murder.
Ekaj himself becomes a victim of rape by one of Mecca’s clients. The most disturbing scene of the film is when Mecca, while trying to console Ekaj, tells him, “Get over it, it happens to everybody. Everybody gets raped”. While that isn’t necessarily true, the fact that rape is such a widespread phenomenon for these kids and is seen as something that “just happens” or something to simply “get over” is truly horrifying. Nothing about this film sat well with me nor should it sit well with anyone.
In all honesty….
Ekaj, overall, is not a fun film to watch. Its subject matter is brutal, depressing, distressing and grim. However, it is a necessary film with much to learn from. Humanity, in general, doesn’t want to see all of the terrible things that happen on a daily basis to our brethren, but hiding from the truth gets us nowhere.
Using a micro-budget, Gonzales uses her past experience as a photographer to bring together a myriad of moving pictures that shows a lot of beauty encompassed in the filthy streets of New York. Gonzales’s ability to tell a story using fast-paced imagery is unlike anything I’ve seen before. She never wastes a single second on unnecessary pans or long takes, instead choosing a photographic approach to film that echoes the moment to moment lives of these homeless youth. It is a veritable moving collage of their gritty reality and keeps the audience fully engaged. There is never a lag in action.
Ekaj also helps break the stereotypes unfairly set by people’s looks and circumstances. Mecca looks, at first glance, to be a hard gang member but the reality of his soft, lovable nature transcends his exterior, which becomes a lesson and reminder itself that people are not always how they seem. Though both characters have to put on a tough face to the world, they are, in reality, starving for love and acceptance.
Mestre actually is a homeless LGBTQ youth that Gonzales tried to help in real life, which only adds another layer of authenticity and discomfort to this piece. Though it may not be his personal story, we know that his real life isn’t any simpler than the one portrayed. Using our talents and skills to help others is what we all need to focus on and Gonzales has done just that. Art as a living embodiment of our society helps us to become more aware of what we collectively need to change in a more comfortable space.
Which makes Ekaj as our inaugural review that much more exciting for us. Queen B. Productions believes that using film as an expression to send a message and reach those who cannot be reached any other way, is paramount. Film has the unique ability to touch a wide audience faster than any other medium. It is crucial to our society that diverse stories, no matter how difficult to watch, are told.
Knowing there is a problem is the first step to solving it and we salute every filmmaker out there with the courage to bring this knowledge forward.
Ekaj is available to stream on Prime Video, ITunes, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube Movies, Filmdoo and Indie Rights Movies on Roku.