Director and actress Tasha Smith hopes the story is a cautionary tale.
For the past few years, TV One has built a robust channel that fans have come to love, thanks in part to its addicting documentary series Unsung, Fatal Attraction, and For My Man, a show about real women who get caught up, and brought down, by their partners. Monday night, the network--dubbed the “Black Lifetime” by one happy viewer--premiered a ripped-from-the-headlines true crime drama that quickly became the talk of Twitter.
Starring Niatia “Lil Mama” Kirkland and Lance Gross, When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story chronicles the tragic story of a troubled teen who ended up becoming a killer after falling in love with the wrong man. For Better or Worse star Tasha Smith, the film’s director, said Blakely’s story broke her heart.
“She was a young girl who was very vulnerable and she got caught up in the streets,” Smith told ESSENCE back in July. “I think a lot of young girls have similar experience and I just wanted to help tell the story in a way that empathized and sympathized with her.”
Blakely was just 16 when she met Michael Berry (portrayed by Gross in the film), a local pimp 11 years her senior. Soon after the pair became involved in a relationship, he convinced the young mother to give him something more than her body. In a matter of months, the teenager went from dancing for dollars in clubs around Atlanta, to prostitution, selling drugs, robbery, and ultimately murder. Though extreme, Smith said Blakely’s life can be a warning to others, especially women.
“It makes me sad when I think about how these young girls are falling [victim] to sex trafficking,” she said. After pleading guilty to three murders she claimed Berry ordered her commit, Blakely was sentenced to life in prison. While Blakely certainly deserved to be held accountable for her crimes, Smith said it’s important to protect young people from men like Berry as well. “It’s good for people to be aware of the predators who are out there.”
“Maybe the Dinos of the world will look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can’t make these decisions that are going to destroy someone’s life,’” Smith said. “I feel like this is something that everyone can learn from. I think sometimes, tragedies provide our biggest lessons.”
There’s a fine line between glorifying problematic figures and using them as examples, but Smith hoped When Love Calls would be a lesson to others. Thankfully, she hit her mark and the film offered several valuable lessons about life and love. Let’s break them down.
Lesson #1: Always ask questions
When Falicia (Lil Mama) meets Dino (Gross), she’s enamoured by the handsome man. He wins her over by showering her with attention and cash, but the party soon ends when he’s locked up. During his incarceration, he sends her money and has a friend look out for her, but Falicia never asks what he does for a living or what his intentions are. Even after he gets out and they begin their relationship in earnest, Falicia never asks how he’s able to take care of her (or himself), until she hears rumors that he may be a pimp. Then it’s too late because she’s in way too deep to get out. A few pointed questions in the beginning could have saved Falicia from falling victim to the charming--yet abusive--older man who never had her best interests at heart.
Lesson #2: Don’t let disrespect, or violence, slide
When they first met, Dino lavished Falicia with affection, but when she didn’t to sleep with a customer to bring in some extra money, he quickly turned violent. After Dino head-butted her, then apologized for it, Falicia had a choice to make: stick with him and risk being assaulted again, or grab her young son and run back home to her mother. She chose to stay with Dino because she said no man has ever supported her or loved her like he head. But abuse isn’t love, and if your partner turns violent, brushing it off and letting it go unaddressed will do little more than ensure it happens again.
Lesson #3: Love isn’t an excuse
One reason Falicia continues to stay with Dino is because he confesses his love for her. Genuine love is something she’s lacked all her life and desperately craves, so when she meets a handsome man who treats her well (at least in the beginning) and professes his love for her, Falicia hangs on tight and refuses to let go. But love isn’t an excuse for mistreatment, and it’s certainly not violent. Unfortunately, Falicia’s family didn’t model what healthy relationships, boundaries, or love actually looks like, so she easily fell for Dino’s hollow words.
Lesson #4: We have to protect our children
Falicia’s life was troubled from the beginning. Her father was gone, her mother chose her own romantic liaisons over her child, and no one seemed to protect her. Being a parent is hard, especially when you’re doing it on your own, but we must protect children who are easily preyed upon by people like Dino. He saw that Falicia was searching for love and exploited it, ultimately dragging her all the way down.