Foster Boy – Film Review

Foster Boy, at its core, depicts a tale of neglect of children by the very system designed to protect them. The film is inspired by true events concerning the foster care system which leaves a deeply unsettling aftertaste as corruption for profit to the detriment of the innocent is revealed. Recent films such as I Care A Lot, starring Rosamund Pike, have also illustrated the manner in which some private for-profit organisations, within the welfare system, can exploit legal loopholes to profiteer off the misfortunes of their occupants. Foster Boy provides that unique moving perspective in a David v Goliath courtroom drama with a stellar cast and Shaquille O’Neal as an executive producer.

Foster Boy is a powerful indictment of the treatment endured by young people through services that have effectively been tendered out by the state to private organisations. The film is presented from the viewpoint of Jamal, a young man that has been churned out by both the foster care and the incarceration systems, which have failed him as he was placed him in a foster home where a sexual abuser subsequently arrived. The notion advanced is that the private organisations are the saviour of an overwhelmed, underfunded state system but as Jamal’s legal representative retorts, played by a steely Matthew Modine, private companies do ‘some’ things better.

Shane Paul McGhie as Jamal in Foster Boy
Shane Paul McGhie as Jamal in Foster Boy

What is known is that Jamal is fighting against Bellcore, a private foster care provider on the grounds of neglect. Jamal’s case was deemed unwinnable and therefore had been floating around the justice system for such time. The casually thrown comments illustrating unconscious bias based on beliefs that Jamal looked like a ‘thug’, sports an afro and has black skin compound such institutional racist features and failures of systems and institutions designed to protect and provide safe environments. Within the short film, Josiah, such unconscious biases are also shown creeping into the acting audition processes and are yet another injustice to be fought against demonstrating inherent bias.

Foster Boy does not linger on the sentimental aspects of such injustices, little information is provided about the trauma Jamal has been subjected to as short flashbacks provide the only insight regarding the emotional torture meted out. It is an audacious decision by director Youssef Delara as instant empathy with Jamal is not established but develops over the course of the film as his character is fleshed out through the interactions concerning his case.

Fortunately, Foster Boy has avoided emulating one-dimensional stereotypical tropes as Jamal is compassionate and does not appear to have been immersed within drug related activities but seeks to help others dependency issues. The film embraces this theme of appearance-based pre-judgements further when Jamal’s lawyer Michael is forced to examine his own prejudices, with a predictable redemptive arc. But through this device, Delara ensures that the audience similarly question their own pre-conceptions.

Matthew Modine and Louis Gossett Jr in Foster Boy
Matthew Modine and Louis Gossett Jr in Foster Boy

Foster Boy portrays a system deliberately designed to fail children from marginalised backgrounds and traumatic situations, based on pre-conceptions and the prioritisation of profit. The film exposes a system willing to ignore individual trauma of younger children in favour of maintaining business transactions and attractive profit margins. Whilst most of the film occurs in the courtroom as a legal thriller, the sombre muted colours of the cinematography accentuate the gravity of the proceedings and its significance to one man, Jamal, to moving effect.

It is difficult not to be mesmerised by the emotional, moving performance from Shane Paul McGhie as Jamal. The close ups on his face highlight the tension and anguish felt behind his eyes as well as the frustration, it is a captivating performance. Foster Boy relies on his nuanced performance as well as Louis Gosset Junior’s no-nonsense judge and the chemistry between them is heart warming to behold.

Foster Boy is a riveting watch which remains grounded in the reality of the injustices in effect within the ownership of some foster care homes by private companies, which are more concerned with profits rather than welfare. The film highlights the neglect that some children within such system may have experienced and thrusts the issue of reform into the spotlight.

Writer Jay Paul Deratany based Foster Boy on his real-life experiences as a lawyer representing cases of foster care neglect. Deratany worked with producer Peter Samuelson who owns a non-profit organisation providing higher education to those over 18s that are no longer within the foster care system to ensure there is a continuous positive support structure.It is admirable to see such examples of positive action to instil change and hopefully Foster Boy will also serve as that call to action for reform.

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