Director Jamal Joseph has lofty goals about his first feature film.
The former Black Panther wants to instill hope in viewers through his story about redemption called "Chapter & Verse."
Executive produced by Antoine Fuqua and starring Daniel Beaty (who also co-wrote the film), Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick and Selenis Leyva, the Harlem-set film shows reformed gang leader S. Lance Ingram (played by Beaty) as he struggles to re-enter society after serving a 10 year prison sentence.
The independent drama mirrors Joseph's personal journey after being released from prison, where he served nine and a half years for his involvement in New York's much-publicized 1969 Panther 21 case. Joseph was indicted as a teen for weapons charges and harboring Black Panther fugitives.
Nearly three decades since his release, the acclaimed author and Columbia University film professor tells The Huffington Post that he hopes the film will spark much-needed dialogue about prison reform.
"The timing of the film coming out ― humanizing a man that represents millions of men and women in this country and showing their struggles, and showing the struggles of family ― hopefully will become apart of a larger movie conversation," Joseph told HuffPost. "Not only what we do on an individual level, but how do we prevent this? How do we open our arms and get hearts around the idea that we don't need more jails, we need more classrooms. That we don't need more police, we need more jobs. We need to deal with the problem at the root."
Joseph added that he decided to become a filmmaker during his years in federal prison where he earned two college degrees and launched a multi-cultural theater company that produced five plays. After his release, he accepted a fellowship at the Sundance Institute, where he forged relationships with studios to produce a list of short films and documentaries.
In 1997, Joseph launched the Impact Repertory Youth Theater of Harlem, a nonprofit youth performing arts group that provides college and career guidance to young performers. The group received a 2008 Oscar nomination for Best Original Song "Raise It Up," which was co-written by Joseph and featured on the "August Rush" soundtrack.
For Omari Hardwick, the film's reoccurring theme of redemption persuaded him to portray the role of Lance's childhood friend, Jomo, who was afforded the opportunity to open a local barbershop following his prison sentence.
"I think it was the redemption that I had found, not only in this character, but within the story," Hardwick told HuffPost. "When I sat down to talk to Jamal and Daniel Beaty about the project, they told me this guy had been to jail. He's no stranger to the street life, but he'd found a way to get it all together and clean his life up and open a barbershop."
"And I liked that he was in that environment of being someone who had done wrong, but now was doing right and had an opportunity with his childhood friend being released from prison, he had an opportunity to help him redeem himself as well. Redemption is so necessary, as is forgiveness. And so the story in the movie touches on a lot of that."
With his debut feature film complete, Joseph says he wants to focus on additional films including a companion piece to "Chapter and Verse," based on his experiences in the Black Panther Party, as well as a film highlighting female leaders of the Civil Rights era.
"I'm interested in those real kinds of stories that bring the truth of what we're doing ― whether it's past, present or future ― to life with characters that we can remember with a story that takes us on a little bit of a journey that's serious," he said.
"But also have moments that make you laugh and make you cry. And at the end of it, something about the film that makes you talk about the bigger issues in your life. That's the kind of filmmaking I'm interested in."
"Chapter & Verse" is now playing in select cities. For a complete list click here.