Writer-Director Justin Tipping Talks 'Kicks'
In Justin Tipping’s first full-length feature film, Kicks, the writer-director is enthusiastic to share his message of the cycle of poverty causing egotistical decisions, which ultimately lead to violence and a false message of masculinity.
Kicks follows 14-year-old Brandon (Jahking Guillory), who is constantly bullied by the fact that he doesn’t wear “cool” shoes. When faced with the opportunity to get one of the hottest pairs on the market, albeit illegally, Brandon jumps at the chance. His friends, Rico (Christopher Meyer) and Albert (played by the Notorious B.I.G.’s son, Christopher Jordan Wallace), are shocked when Brandon garners more attention from the opposite sex. However, the glory is short-lived when a local neighborhood punk, Flaco (Kofe Siriboe), beats Brandon up and steals the shoes. Brandon finds himself “marked as a man” and conflicted by the societal norms of his impoverished neighborhood. It’s up to him to choose whether to do what is expected of him and his community or take a different route.
Tipping grew up in a similar neighborhood to the one represented in the film. “Growing up there, it’s a very specific world. It’s its own character in the movie and growing up there it was very important for me to represent that,” Tipping explained.
Director Justin Tipping on the set of “Kicks,” a Focus World release. Photo by Jess dela Merced. Courtesy of Focus World.
“I was sitting down to write and create, and I started to write what I knew.” Written with that huge element in mind, Oakland had to be a part of the production process. Although some scenes were heightened for entertainment value, most of the story was inspired by something that happened to Tipping growing up or to a family member or close friend.
When telling this story, it was important to Tipping to show the misinterpreted idea of what it’s like to be a man. There is a cycle of violence and the film really explains how that can get tied up into masculinity. In the film, Brandon and his friends have these different milestones, like getting jumped or sleeping with a girl, to signify their toughness and how macho they are. “That’s kind of how you’re taught, like getting jumped. I remember my brother looking at me with two black eyes after I was jumped and saying, ‘It’s OK. You’re a man now,’” recalled Tipping. He remembers feeling proud but deeply saddened by this assertion and wondered, “Why the hell do we associate violence with masculinity?” This warped vision of what it’s like to be a man isn’t remedied for Brandon and seeing as the only strong female influence, his single mother, is often away at one of her three jobs, he seeks the advice of his cousin and Uncle Marlon, who only exacerbate the vicious cycle.
Courtesy of Focus World.
Due to the lack of guidance, Brandon is followed by an astronaut that no one else can see, who is compiled of what Brandon hopes for in the future, his ideals in life and could possibly even represent his innocence. “For me, the astronaut was operating on two different levels. Visually, it’s carrying semiotic weight associated with imagination and boy stories…paired with his loneliness,” said Tipping. He believes that the astronaut is metaphorically driving the story forward and that the astronaut has the power of being a guardian angel for Brandon, but at the same time, he is a product of Brandon’s imagination and therefore, contains false motivations.
What’s most interesting about this story is that no one is right. This isn’t a tale of good versus evil. It’s about a warped social construct and the dark side of fetishizing sneakers. Tipping says that GQ investigated and found that approximately 1,200 deaths a year are related to sneaker violence and “that’s not even counting those who get beat up or bullied for not wearing cool shoes.” This idea of “sneakerheads” and the violence that comes along with it was something that Tipping wanted to make clear, showing that it’s really nothing to scoff at.
“You can’t dismiss sneakerheads … the fact is it’s a real thing with social significance,” said Tipping.
“From a lot of people I’ve talked to it’s like [beauty is in] the eye of the beholder. It’s like a piece of art and it’s not just a shoe for function.”
Kicks is now playing in theaters.