August 03, 2017 

By Brittany K. Jackson 

Contributing Writer 

Executive produced by author, entrepreneur and social activist Russell Simmons, “Romeo is Bleeding” is an award-winning documentary that candidly explores the history of crime and separation among “turfs” in Richmond, CA. The film tracks the life of a drug-dealing rebel turned poet named Donté Clark, who , through his artistic expression, manages  to transform the lives of youth in his community.


In the film, viewers find that the longstanding “turf wars” between Central and North Richmond were rooted in much more than what meets the eye.  The documentary exposes racially charged “red zoning” laws, created years back by the state and federal legislatures, that would contribute to the high measures of Black-on-Black crime. These tricky laws, along with the Chevron oil refinery being placed in the heart of the Richmond community – and the subsequent sky-high asthma rates among Black children, have proven to be an environmental death sentence for Richmond youth. 


Recently, the Sentinel caught up with the cast and crew of “Romeo is Bleeding” at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood. We spoke with Simmons, who says the reason he took on the project was to show survival through the lens of art.  “It reminds me of so many stories, of so many people, who try to survive through art and did, and changed their lives because of art,” Simmons said.


In an unorthodox approach to Shakespeare, Clark begins to write his own adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” employing the help of local youth artists and poets form the doc’s imagery. Together, they parallel the romantic tragedy, with their dire experiences, by speaking out on the system’s intent to fail them and the improbable unity needed amongst the rival turfs to overcome the circumstances and prevail.


Clark says that while each generation of Richmond natives has a different take on what occurred, no one could identify reasons the self-inflicted crimes continue to ensue. “I realized that violence has been going on since the beginning and it’s up to us to figure out how far we are willing to go to stop it for ourselves,” Clark stated. 


Figuring it out is exactly what members of Richmond’s RAW Talent Program are doing. Clark was initially chosen to participate in the program by teacher Molly Raynor, and now works religiously to mentor and channel the talents and emotions of incoming youth.


Director of the film, Jason Zeldes, says that presenting Donté’s prose on full display was not only the key to telling Richmond’s story, but the platform captures a poetic proficiency found in many underserved communities. “Poetry is such a powerful, positive outlet, you can really speak your soul and work through a lot of complex emotions,” Zeldes said. “I hope part of this project is really making poetry cool again,” he continued.


Clark says that the RAW Talent Program was something that started organically by allowing youth to benefit from personal and communal transformation. “For nine years, I dedicated my life to let this be that practice that hopefully brings a lot of healing to everybody,” Clark declared.  Yet, as a resident of North Richmond, Clark’s life is in jeapoardy daily, as he travels through rival territory in Central Richmond, where the life-changing program is locacted. Simmons says this kind of bravery gives birth to change. “I think that people like Donté give example, and by example, they learn. The Kendrick Lamar’s of the world, the Chance the Rappers, all of them, they matter, and they’re letting people know it’s possible,” he continued.


“Romeo is Bleeding” opened in theatres on July 28, 2017 and is currently being screened nationwide. For exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, visit 

Category: Arts & Culture