At first glance, Sunday's Showtime movie "Zooman," part of the cable industry's "Voices Against Violence" week, looks akin to one of those earnest afternoon hours of message TV aimed at teen-agers.
But few, if any, of those teen dramas contain the emotional punch packed by this relentless indictment of street violence and the society that fosters it. And few have such a powerhouse cast--led by Louis Gossett Jr., Charles Dutton, Cynthia Martells, CCH Pounder, Hill Harper and Khalil Kain--to maintain the intensity.
Adapted for television by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller from his Off Broadway drama, "Zooman and the Sign," feature director Leon Ichaso ("Sugar Hill") has filmed it with an effective on-stage sensibility.
"Zooman" is about a neighborhood torn apart in the aftermath of a gang shooting that leaves a little girl dead. Fear and apathy keep several eyewitnesses from identifying the killer. To shame them into coming forward, the girl's father, Reuben (Gossett), puts up a bitterly worded sign outside his house--"The killer of our Jackie is free on the streets because our neighbors will not identify him."
The sign, however, attracts media attention and fragments the community. Increasingly on the defensive, angry friends turn against Reuben and his family.
Throughout the escalating neighborhood conflict that threatens to explode into further tragedy, the killer, Zooman (Kain), speaks directly to the camera, taking viewers into the ghetto world he claims to rule and bludgeoning them with raw language and sneering contempt for his victim, her family, the police and the world at large.
Meanwhile, Fuller braves viewers' probable fear and disgust by challenging them to acknowledge such familial and societal dysfunction as drugs, welfare, violence and racism that create the reality Zooman represents: victims who victimize.
* "Zooman" premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.