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 a convicted murderer.
The true story feature film 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,” she said. “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.
“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 the start 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 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 sexually transmitted disease 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 actor Lance Gross.
“The interlocking systems of drugs, prostitution, mind control and economic exploitation of those trapped in prostitution are mind-boggling,” said Farley, a research and clinical psychologist who has written 32 peer-reviewed articles on prostitution and trafficking and two books. “One snapshot alone can be deceiving.
“Only by taking a panoramic view of its entirety can the public become educated about this system of modern-day sexual slavery.”
Farley says the mental domination and control is still misunderstood or not known at all, even by people in mental health and law enforcement.
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 Senior Vice President 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.”
“We look forward to the positive impact on working together to encourage and change the girls’ lives we serve,” said Saving Our Daughters Co-Founder amd Chief Executive Officer Curtis Benjamin. “TV One’s original movie cast, directors and producers of ‘When Love Kills’ have 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, theater and music in the memory of their youngest daughter Iliss Marie, who lost her battle with cancer at 12.
“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 Saving Our Daughters 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 added: “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.
The top seven interventions that, according to research and Safe Horizon, help end domestic violence are: domestic violence shelters, orders of protection (restraining orders), advocacy, legal representation and advocacy, hotlines, counseling and economic Empowerment.
Along with the implementation of the afore-mentioned 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 Gaborey Sidebe, 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 Facilia or the role of her absentee mother were not easy tasks and the producers needed a little push to see Butler’s vision.
“I want somebody to look at my situation,” Blakely told journalist Mara Shalhoup in 2004. “I’m 20. And, according to many, I’m never going to touch 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 a possibility of parole, is 33 years old and HIV positive. Her child is 16 years old.
If Blakely had known about a life-saving, 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. He is approximately 47 years old.
A New Way of Life Re-entry Project founder Susan Burton, Loyola Marymount University, and TV One will host the fifth annual Justice on Trial Film Festival and open the three-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 at Loyola Marymount.
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
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.