“SWEET THING”— A Look at Race and Poverty In Childhood

“SWEET THING”

A Look at Race and Poverty In Childhood

Amos Lassen

“Sweet Thing” is director Alexandre Rockwell’s story of the strength of children in the face of neglect, warring parents, and identity crisis. It is a meditation on an impoverished childhood that filled with innocence and imagination Rockwell’s own daughter Lana is Billie, the daughter of unreliable, alcoholic but loving Adam (Will Patton) and older sister to Nico (Nico Rockwell, the director’s son). Billie is a talented singer who was named after Billie Holliday, whom she sees as her guide. This guidance and emotional support is necessary: her mother, Eve, (Karyn Parsons) has left the family to be with her controlling, abusive boyfriend Beaux (ML Josepher). Adam is ineffectual even when sober, and Nico is too young to be independent, thus Billie ends up the caregiver for her father and brother.

Adam moves between tenderness and tyranny regarding his children. One moment he gives Billie a cheap ukulele for Christmas and the next he pulls her into the bathroom and cuts her gorgeous hair off as punishment while mumbling regrets for doing so.

When Adam, who has been earning casual money as a Santa-for-hire, gets arrested and sent to rehab to dry out, the kids go to live with Eve and Beaux, where they become friends with teenaged Malik (Jabari Watkins) but when Beaux turns sexually predatory toward Nico, Eve refuses to believe Billie when she shares this and te three kids run off in a stolen car, hoping to get to  Florida, where Malik’s absentee father lives.

Even though the film is set in New Bedford, Massachusetts, it really could play out anywhere. “Sweet Thing” looks at the misery of children of alcoholic parents, and has something to say about race. Blackness is not a foregrounded theme, but it is important to this story of marginalization. Billie and Nico fight to find joy within the struggle. Sincerity and optimism are everywhere in “Sweet Thing” and we see that youth can handle anything that they face in life.

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