‘The Falicia Blakely Story’ illustrates domestic violence impacts
Advocates hope show creates empowering conversations about date abuse, domestic violence and healthy mother and daughter relationships
Tasha Smith, Niatia ‘Lil Mama’ Kirkland, Lance Gross and Tami Roman come together to speak out against domestic violence. Video: TV One
TV One drama tells true story of Falicia Blakely; illustrates impacts, victims of domestic violence
Making her directorial debut, actress and acting coach Tasha Smith gives audiences a “fly-on-the-wall” perspective into the tragic journey of Falicia Blakely from exotic dancer to mother and finally, convicted murderer. “When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story,” which premiered August 30, 2017 on TV One, is based on a true story that strikes an all-too familiar chord as it graphically illustrates the power and control wheel pattern, intent and impact of domestic violence.
It struck a chord with Smith in a direct way.
“When I was 14, I dropped out of school – a lot of people don’t know that. By the age of 16, I was bartending in a strip club, by the age of 20 I was stripping… so I understand how Falicia got there,” said Smith. “By the grace of God, I ended up here, but Falicia ended up in jail for the rest of her life.”
Studies report that females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Blakely was an under-aged exotic dancer with a young child when she met Dino who would later become her manipulating boyfriend and the reason for her downfall.
Within two years of their relationship, Dino’s power and control over her life led her to sex work, robbery, and the murder of three men (one of the victims played by World Boxing Champion Floyd Mayweather) in cold blood for the sake of her delusional love for him. In 2002, Blakely, 19, was arrested in Georgia and her crimes made national headlines.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline outlines a number of abuse tactics used against sex workers, such as, taking a percentage, cut or withholding the survivor’s earnings from sex work, punishing them for not earning enough, or denying them the right to use the money they earn as they choose, all of which are forms of financial abuse; sexual coercion based on the survivor’s employment; denying them needed medical care, including STI testing, access to birth control, abortion or prenatal care; and minimizing their feelings about a negative experience in their work or blaming them for abuse they’ve faced from clients.
In the chapter, “Pimp Subjugation of Women by Mind Control,” by co-authors Harvey Schwartz, Jody Williams, and Melissa Farley from “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections,” there are three references to a style of pimping and mind-controlling techniques. One style, in particular, is called the Bait-Switch-Hook pimp or a “gorilla pimp” in the sex industry who is a violent, take-no-prisoners type of pimp. They target young women who are below average intelligence, who lack education, and most importantly, who lack fathers.
One of the mind-control techniques used by this type of pimp is called “future story-building.” The pimp talks about how great life could be together and how they’ll use the money they make from this horrible life and put it to good use in the future. The pimp has previously extracted from her what she most wants and he feeds that dream back to her as something that is truly possible through prostitution. In the TV One movie, the technique is used by Dino’s character played by Gross.
“The interlocking systems of drugs, prostitution, mind control and economic exploitation of those trapped in prostitution are mind-boggling. One snapshot alone can be deceiving,” said Farley, a research and clinical psychologist has written 32 peer-reviewed articles on prostitution and trafficking, and two books. “Only by taking a panoramic view of its entirety can the public become educated about this system of modern-day sexual slavery.”
Farley says this kind of mental domination and control is still misunderstood or not known at all, even by people in mental health and law enforcement.
Resources to fight trafficking, prostitution, domestic violence
The Prostitution Research & Education, a nonprofit, was founded in 1995 by Farley. Thousands of researchers, legislators, survivors, activists, and advocates in the U.S. and around the world have turned to PRE for carefully researched facts about trafficking and prostitution.
To drive the important message home about safety and awareness for girls and young women, TV One partnered with Saving Our Daughters, an organization that helps girls overcome many obstacles such as bullying (cyber, gossip, face-to-face), dating abuse, domestic violence, and other esteem slayers.
“This film is a cautionary tale about everything love shouldn’t be in our communities,” says TV One SVP of Marketing Lori Hall. “We want this film to be a wake-up call for young people and families and we hope it will start a lot of dialogue in homes around the country.”
TV One, in partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, produced a public service announcement.
“We look forward to the positive impact on working together to encourage and change the girls’ lives we serve,” says Saving Our Daughters co-founder and CEO Curtis Benjamin. “TV One’s original movie cast, directors and producers of ‘When Love Kills’ has truly developed a tool for our girls to help create empowering conversations about date abuse, domestic violence and healthy mother and daughter relationships.”
Since 2009, Benjamin and his wife Debbie made it their mission to empower girls of multicultural backgrounds through film, television, theatre, and music in the memory of their youngest daughter Iliss Marie who lost her battle with cancer at 12 years old.
From American Idol Season 2, Trenyce Cobbins is one of the many Saving Our Daughters’ Celebrity Godparents. “I reached out to Saving Our Daughters to share wisdom and truth with the young girls who have dealt with harsh realities,” said Cobbins. “I have a family member right now that is mixed up in that life. I pray for her daily and saw how easy it was to fall victim once a young lady rationalizes in her mind that this ‘man’ loves her more than her family or in ways her family couldn’t.
“Watching the film gave me chills because not only did Lil Mama look like her but her relationship with her mom (played by Tami Roman) was very similar too,” Cobbins added.
Cobbins tells the SOD girls, “You should never love anyone more than yourself, and that self-empowerment is a flower that needs consistent attention in order to be strong enough to stand your ground when presented with pitfalls that are just life’s many road blocks in the form of toxic relationships.”
Cobbins offers any young girl in crisis to reach out to her on Instagram and Twitter.
“Research shows that helping victims of date and sexual abuse and trauma is rooted in helping them to regain control over their bodies and then their minds,” said Dr. Alduan Tartt, a clinical psychologist, and SOD Life Coach. “Researchers and therapist previously would simply focus on talk therapy with the belief that unlocking the mind would then unlock the body. In essence, if we deal with the emotional trauma mentally then victims could release the physical symptoms in their bodies.”
Tartt says “Now we know that the link is actually reversed. This means that the body unlocks the mind. So, therapists are now encouraged to refer all trauma victims to Yoga, music and the arts to help the victims regain control over their physical body (since the body was violated by the abuser) which then helps therapy be more effective.”
Tartt also serves as a frequent psychology expert for CNN, HLN, and Intelligence For Your Life.
How to end domestic violence
The top 7 interventions that, according to research and Safe Horizon, help end domestic violence:
- Domestic Violence Shelters
- Orders of Protection (aka Restraining Orders)
- Legal Representation and Advocacy
- Economic Empowerment
Along with the implementation of the aforementioned interventions, Safe Horizon provides other safety and healing options. The agency believes that helping survivors make their own choices enables them to feel empowered and more likely to follow-through with their better decisions.
In 2016, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and its Love is Respect project for teens and young adults responded to 323,669 calls, chats and texts.
“The goal is not to glorify or make light of the heinous crimes that Falicia committed for the sake of love, but to shed light on WHY she did it?,” said Leah Daniels Butler, the casting director for When Love Kills. “Her desperation to want to be loved so badly, that she would do anything to keep it, not without conscience but because she had never been shown love before.”
The award-winning Butler is known for casting big budget studio films and launching the career of stars like Gabourey Sidibe, star of the Academy Award winning film “Precious”, did not want to cast in a traditional way. “I was attracted to the script and did my own research on the real Falicia Blakely,” she said. “When casting a biopic I like to learn as much about the real subject matters so I can get a better a sense of who I think can play the roles.”
Admittedly, casting Falicia or the role of her absentee mother were not easy tasks and the producers needed a little push to see Butler’s vision. “Lil Mama who carried her own weight in the TLC bio was a great choice because of her ability to balance vulnerability and street edge to convincingly pull this role off,” she said. “I pushed for Tami Roman to play the mom. She is an actress first, and reality star second.” When she’s not busy helping to shape the many fictional characters international audiences, Butler dedicates her time to help shape the futures of real women in her community who are in need of second chances. She sits on the board of the A New Way to Life Re-entry Project, an organization that provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated women in South Los Angeles.
Falicia Blakely, now
“I want somebody to look at my situation,” said Blakely as told to Journalist Mara Shalhoup in 2004. “I’m 20. And, according to many, I’m never going to touch the ground again. And I’m infected with a virus, which of course means I probably will live half of my years. People are looking at me like I’m just apathetic. I don’t have no heart, no feelings, and I didn’t have a motive. And that’s not true. And I don’t want it to go down in history that that’s the type of person I am. I don’t want people to think that I’m just evil.”
Today, Blakely who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole is 34 years old and HIV positive. Her son is 16 years old. Blakely is accessible on Instagram.
If Blakely had known about a lifesaving, round-the-clock hotline, she may not have ended up in a prison cell for life. The “love of her life” was never prosecuted for his crimes against Blakely or his role in ordering the killings. Currently, Michael “Dino” Berry is serving time at the Georgia State prison for possession charges.
A New Way of Life Re-entry Project and JOTFF Founder Susan Burton, Loyola Marymount University, and TV One will host the 5th Annual Justice on Trial Film Festival and open the 3-day festival with a red carpet screening of TV One’s “When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story” followed by a panel discussion on Sept. 15, 2017 at LMU. For more information, go to www.justiceontrialfilmfestival.net.
Abuse and Relationships – www.abuseandrelationships.org
California Partnership to End Domestic Violence – www.cpedv.org
Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs – www.theduluthmodel.org
Jenesse Center, Inc. – www.jenesse.org
Justice on Trial Film Festival – www.justiceontrialfilmfestival.net
National Center on Domestic & Sexual Violence – www.ncdsv.org
National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence – www.dvalianza.org
The Prostitution Research & Education – www.prostitutionresearch.com
Safe Horizon – www.safehorizon.org
Saving Our Daughters – www.savingourdaughters.org
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – www.ncadv.org
The National Domestic Violence Hotline – www.thehotline.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Dr. Alduan Tartt – www.drtartt.com
TV One – www.tvone.tv
Guide on avoiding domestic violence and addiction