Ekaj: A Slice of American Neorealism

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

Ekaj is brought to us by uniquely gifted director and screenwriter Cati Gonzalez. It stars actors Jake Mestre (Ekaj), Scooter LaForge (Johnny), Badd Idea (Mecca), and Vinny Cruz (Ekaj’s father).

I admire the director’s decision to cast fresh faces to populate the character roles of this movie. None of these people were professional actors at the time this film was made. This type of casting brings to mind how non-actors were chosen to play the lead roles in post-WWII Italian films in a genre that would become known as neorealism by film historians.

Directors like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica explored the poverty-ridden and seedy underbelly of 1940s Roman society. Clearly Gonzalez was going for a very similar vibe by granting us access to the gritty and heartbreaking world faced by teenage runaways within New York City’s underground LGBT community.

Ekaj is clearly one of society’s unfortunate victims, being cast out by his hard-nosed and very uncompassionate father. Now he must face the harsh and unforgiving urban environment of New York City. On the streets he must learn how to hustle, steal, and peddle his flesh to survive.

He naively attempts to seduce a few clients to obtain money for food and clothes. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately he becomes a brutalised victim of attempted sexual assault, robbery, and ultimately rape.

Ekaj manages to find a loyal friend along his hellish journey. Mecca proves to be a valuable companion amidst the nonstop chaos. Together they roam the city streets in search of food and shelter; many of the cityscape shots reminded me of the bustling scenes from television drama NYPD Blue.

They even resort to stealing someone’s bike to sell for some quick cash. On a side note, I couldn’t resist thinking this scene was Gonzalez's homage to Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves! Ekaj and Mecca help and learn from one another. Mecca proves himself quite the gentleman by never taking advantage of Ekaj.

Ekaj’s main clients are two painters who pay him for sexual favours. Many of his clientele are attracted to his youthfully feminine appearance. In return he obtains the money he needs to survive. He secretly hopes that one of his clients will want to pursue a long term relationship. Ultimately he wants what every human being wants; love, acceptance and understanding. In order to engage in sexual relations with someone he has to feel a connection with him.

Is selling your flesh to survive right or wrong? Who are the real whores in society?

There are those that peddle their arts or skills and those who peddle their flesh to survive. What separates the artist from the prostitute? Are they actually one and the same? It is up to the viewer to reach this conclusion for himself or herself.

This film is unapologetically real and hits you like a freight train to the face! The ending of Cati Gonzalez’s film is tragically memorable and yet provides us with a glimmer of hope. Ekaj is a wonderful film with gritty imagery and an equally powerful story that will ink itself into your mind like the permanent tattoos on Mecca’s face. Ekaj receives my highest recommendation!

Written by Carl William Zeigler

© 2020 Super Ink Arts.