Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
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Tiz lives in the shadows of the projects in Brooklyn. Tiz has a history with the law. Tiz wants to be a rap star. At base level “Black Picket Fence” sounds like a run-of-the-mill urban drama starring Ja Rule or Ice T. Thankfully, Sergio Goes’ documentary is more than that as it gives an honest and heartfelt look at life on the other side of town.
Tislam Milliner, AKA Tiz, is renowned in his neighborhood for his musical talents. Spewing out words of a harsh life and intelligent rhymes, the consensus is that Tiz has a chance to make it big. But he must first overcome the financial hardships that plague the projects and conquer his own personal demons before he can make good. “Black Picket Fence” follows Tiz in his everyday life and his circle of friends.
Goes’ greatest strength is his ability to get into the hearts of Tiz and his many other subjects. The result is a brutal honesty rarely captured on film. Everyone is comfortable around the camera, not playing up to it or hedging into a dark and muted corner. People speak their minds and while some anecdotes are colorful, they don’t come across as exaggerated fish stories. They’re real with genuine emotion and often have tragic repercussions.
There are times when “Black Picket Fence” loses its focus. Is the film strictly about Tiz’s struggles to make it as a rapper? Or is Goes getting at something more, the microcosms of living in Brooklyn’s projects? If it’s about Tiz, like the beginning of the film suggests, then I wanted to learn more about him: his background, why he’s so good, his chances of actually becoming a star and maybe even a bit more of an overview on what goes into making an album. Goes touches on Tiz having spent time in jail but he never reveals why. This is an important detail that has shaped part of who Tiz is and to leave it out does put him at a bit more of a distance than he ought to be as the subject of a documentary.
The title “Black Picket Fence” makes me believe Goes set out to make something more ambitious and symbolic of the overall struggle to escape the inner city. But with the attention being split on Tiz and everyday life, the film fails to build momentum to give a clear message. The stuff about Tiz’s neighborhood, while honest, is surface situations. Goes doesn’t challenge anything or anyone.
Still, “Black Picket Fence” avoids casting gangbanging stereotypes and Goes doesn’t judge anyone. It’s a good compliment to 8 Mile, giving more perspective to harsh realities where endings aren’t always perfect and the future is left open to either succeed or continue with the same-old, same-old.
Posted on January 14, 2003 in Reviews by Ryan Cracknell
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- “BLACK PICKET FENCE” STANDS TALL
- WINNERS AT 2002 BROOKLYN FILM FEST
- BOB LOG III’S ELECTRIC FENCE STORY
- E.B. HUGHES: WAITING FOR THE BELL (part 2)
- PHILLIP NOYCE: JUMPING THE MAINSTREAM FENCE
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