Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer
Fashion photographer Cati Gonzalez has been in the game for years, living in New York City since 1990. Specializing in street photography, Gonzalez has shot for publications such as Vibe, Vogue, i-D Magazine. Moving to New York in 1990, Gonzalez has captured a defining time in the pop culture, her work encompassing a shift in the film and movie scene. Over the years, Gonzalez’s work has showcased famous faces, some fresh talents, and the everyday people that make New York City interesting.
Naturally, Gonzales was able to translate her eye people in urban backdrops to filmmaking. In her debut film Ekaj, Gonzalez was able to use her background to create a moving portrait of friendship, loss, and survival in New York City. While New York is often portrayed as a paradise for wayward dreams, the reality is often the opposite. Ekaj offers a gritty, melancholy peep into the city’s youth. Gonzalez’s direction allows for character study that isn’t watered down by outrageous storylines. She gives the audience an opportunity to get to know the characters, and root for them to do better.
Over the past three years, Ekaj has a had a strong festival run. It has racked up a host of awards from festivals. Some of the awards are Best Feature from the Blow-Up Chicago International Arthouse Film Festival, Best Film at Downtown Urban Arts Festival, and Best Debut at the Forth Worth Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival…only to name a few. After its run, Ekaj is now available for streaming on most major platforms.
Ekaj is a film that sheds light on the plight of urban LGBT youth, especially the homeless. It’s an issue that isn’t always talked about, but plagues the community. In a study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. Ekaj displays an unfortunate reality for many youth who are discarded from their homes and forced to find a way to make it on their own.
The film follows the title character, Ekaj (Jake Mestre) as he hustles his way through New York. Kicked out of his home, Ekaj makes a living by selling his body, and occasionally stealing from clients. Still naive, Ekaj longs for love and acceptance. Unfortunately, Ekaj manages to fall into toxic situations and relationships for the sake of love. His view of love is skewed, which prevents Ekaj from realizing that majority of the men in his life are with him for the sake of control.
Along the way, Ekaj meets Mecca, (Badd Idea) a friend who is there to guide him through the rough patch. Despite his own personal demons, Mecca constantly looks out for Ekaj, and encourages him to do better. Mecca constantly hustles and schemes to put food on the table, and plans for a better life for him and Ekaj. Mecca seems to have a tough exterior, but he proves that he has a soft side. He’s a character that deserves better than the hand that life dealt him.
The performances in the film are phenomenal, the heart being in the authenticity of the actors. Jake Mestre and Badd Idea shine in their roles as Ekaj and Mecca. New faces in the film scene, Ekaj is both actors’ first feature. Each has had their share of success in modelling, but they show that they excel at acting too. Their performances are natural and unforced, giving the film a documentary feel at points.
Overall, Ekaj is not a feel-good story, but it’s an urgent watch. It’s a great debut from director Cati Gonzalez, and we’re looking forward to what she comes up next.
Beginning March 2nd, Ekaj is now available to stream free on TUBI TV. You can also find it on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Youtube Movies.
Georgia-born, (North) Carolina raised, Adriana is now based in Southern California (Migrating between San Diego and LA). As well as being a writer, she works as a film festival Marketing Coordinator. She has always been passionate about film, writing, and creating and celebrating work that champions diversity and feminism. She is also a potato enthusiast and fashion school defector.