By Krista Kent, project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness and Digital Design senior, Seattle U
Note: This is the third in a series in which we ask our staff to react to the “American Refugees” film that most appealed to them.
“I try my best. I see hundreds of people doing thousands of times better. If I keep doing my best and can’t make it, then I have to find some other way of survival.”
When life has taken a turn for the worse, it can be hard to stay positive. If you had no roof to sleep under and were left with no choice but to ask strangers for spare change, only to receive a condescending look at best, how would you hold up?
How would you react if someone told you to “get a job, you bum,” without knowing the circumstances you were in? Would it be easy to fight the “beast inside” and stay positive?
For Tilawn, who has lived in a car with his dad and slept under bridges, the battle against homelessness hasn’t been easy, but he remains positive. The film “The Beast Inside” tells the story of Tilawn and the barriers he faces while being homeless.
Tilawn was homeless with his dad from age eight. They often lived in their car in Snohomish County, Wash. Image from The Beast Inside.
Directed by Amy Enser and Drew Christie, “The Beast Inside” is one of four in the film series “American Refugees,” which was developed by Seattle University’s Film & Family Homelessness Project and funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Two other films from this series have been reviewed by my colleagues on the Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness. To learn more about “American Refugees,” read Emma’s post about “Home for Sale,” and Haley’s post about “Super Dads.”
Co-directors Drew Christie and Amy Enser field questions at the May 19 American Refugees premiere at SIFF. Photo by Steve Schimmelman.
Coping through Kindness and Creativity
Of the four films in this series, “The Beast Inside” spoke to me the most. Watching Tilawn use acts of kindness and creativity as a coping mechanism instantly drew me in.
Not only does this film include incredible artwork and animation, it portrays the obstacles and vulnerability of an individual in a situation that is unfortunately more common than most people are aware of.
The film’s approach to homelessness is unique because we are not told why Tilawn is homeless. We are only shown who Tilawn is and the nature of his character. The story briefly steps away from the issues that cause family homelessness, and focuses on the emotions that Tilawn feels. In doing so, the film sheds light on how people who are homeless can face racism and prejudice, while also sometimes coping with the loss of loved ones.
These social inequities reveal how most people view homelessness. Often we see “homeless people” just as that: homeless. The phrase itself suggests that these individuals have been defined by their present circumstance.
Most people walking by Tilawn only saw him as homeless, not as a strong, compassionate person with a burgeoning talent for spoken-word performance. Image from The Beast Inside.
This film stands as a reminder that people who are homeless are also individuals with families, friends and hobbies. It’s something we might forget as we pass them by on the street.
For Tilawn, his most important hobbies are rap and spoken word, introduced to him by his father, whom he describes as his hero.
Tilawn looks up to his dad, who protected him and kept him safe through years of homelessness. Image from The Beast Inside.
Imagine Something Better
When I was younger I used to play dress-up with my friends. We would disguise ourselves as pirates and travel to wherever our imaginations would take us. Every once in a while I still catch myself daydreaming, whether it’s on the city bus or in class.
I use my imagination to take me to a better place; a place where I have the ability to control what happens.
When Tilawn was younger I believe he did the same thing; he used his creativity to cope with being homeless.
This is apparent in the beginning of the film when Tilawn talks about fighting an invisible dragon to pass time while living in a car with his dad. At the time he was only eight years old.
Eventually he defeats the dragon in his imagination, but in reality there are many beasts that he must face, which aren’t as easy to conquer.
We see this when Tilawn describes how homelessness has changed his sleeping patterns, saying, “As soon as my head hit the sand, I fell asleep. As soon as I live in a house it’s like so difficult to sleep for me. I’m so accustomed to sleeping outside or on a roof or something.”
Strength Through Compassion
Compassion is like energy; it can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred. That’s another lesson from the film, as we see Tilawn’s compassion in action.
Tilawn’s strength of character is revealed in how he treats others in need, even when facing his own hardships. Even as he is denied a job based solely on his appearance, his compassionate nature enables him to buy another couple living with homelessness a meal, while also compelling him to give away his own shoes to others in need.
I was amazed that despite the negativity that Tilawn experienced, he responded to the world with kindness. His selflessness is a testament to his caring nature, and shows that compassion can never be spread thin.
Why is he so generous?
Tilawn expresses that he wants to help others like him, because he knows how hard homelessness can be. He explains, “If they give up on themselves, then the world wins.”
When Tilawn applies for a job at Wendy’s, the manager gives him some shocking feedback. Image from The Beast Inside.
“Why do so many people just want to focus on our flaws?”
This question from Tilawn’s rap displays the positive nature of his character, it makes me reflect on how we perceive those who are in need.
In the form of spoken word, Tilawn talks about defeating the beast inside. Rapping about homelessness, he brings light to an issue that often remains in the shadows.
His relentless positivity throughout the film is uplifting and makes me believe that by spreading awareness and compassion, we can defeat “the beast inside” and end homelessness together.
What Can You Do?
- Download or stream the “American Refugees” film series to watch all four films.
- Download the discussion guide and host a viewing party with co-workers, club members, family and friends alike. Refer to the questions on the guide to ignite an educational, reflective dialogue.
- Engage in conversation with others! The more we talk about the issue, the more people will understand how we can help to end homelessness.
- Visit our Facebook page and project blog to see more information about our project and ways to become involved.
- Think about who you consider your hero. For Tilawn, it’s his father, who took care of him and protected him through hard times and repeated instances of homelessness. How do your heroes compared to Tilawn’s father?
Editor’s Note: “The Beast Inside” has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on Vimeo, where it was named a “Vimeo Staff Pick” in late May 2014. It was also selected for The Stranger’s “Short Film Friday” on June 6, 2014. The Stranger’s short-film critic, Charles Mudede, said: “Very pleased, very excited, very everything wonderful you can ever imagine to share this really important work.” See Mudede’s full review here.
“The Beast Inside” was named a Vimeo Staff Pick and chosen for The Stranger’s Short Film Friday. Screen shot of Vimeo page.
Question: Which of the four “American Refugees” films is your favorite, and why? Let us know in the comments section.
This is the third in a series in which we ask our staff to react to the “American Refugees” film that most appealed to them. Next up: Our partner Lisa Gustaveson from the Seattle U Faith & Family Homelessness Project reflects on “The Smiths.”