The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. Walter Dean Myers first published Monster in 1999; over twenty years later, the profound themes centered around the criminality of Black boyhood and coping with trauma continue to plague young Black men across the country. The story follows Steve Harmon, a 16-year-old boy on trial for murder because of his supposed involvement in the murdering of a Harlem drugstore owner. In this narrative, Steve becomes a “pawn” in the system, forced to play by the cynical rules of those in power as he is “forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.”
However, Steve’s passion as an amateur filmmaker might be the only thing that saves him—transcribing his entire case and trial into a script, putting it all down and telling the story of how his life was flipped upside down in an instant. Despite his best efforts to stay afloat and true to himself, Steve’s perception of reality blurs until he not only misinterprets the truth but no longer recognizes himself.
This poignant, multi-award-winning Walter Dean Myers novel makes its cinematic Netflix debut this Friday, May 7. The film originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and continues to follow Steve as readers get the perspective of “the monster” and who that really is. The film stars Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jharrel Jerome, Jennifer Ehle, Rakim Mayers, Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones, Tim Blake Nelson and John David Washington.
The Root’s Tonja Reneé Stidhum of sat down with Harrison, Hudson and Wright to unpack who—or what—the real monster in America really is.
“Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. MONSTER.” — Walter Dean Myers, Monster