A story about friendship, family and race in the American suburbs.
To impress a girl, a black teenager steals her step-father's truck. As the ramifications mount, he must fight to regain control of his life.
SET IT ON FIRE opens on DONALD and his best friend TYLER getting in a fight on the last day of school. Donald wakes up on the first day of summer to his father STEPHEN telling him he needs to get a job. Instead, he meets up with ELLIE in the woods. It’s clear she was attracted to his tough guy performance. After her step-father CALVIN comes home and mistakes Donald for an intruder, a physical altercation ensues. When pressed by Ellie to steal her step-father’s truck as revenge, Donald makes a commitment that changes his life forever.
The crime hangs over his head as he and his father face hostile neighbors and his relationship with his best friend explodes into violence. As suspicions grow, Tyler's violent tendencies, small-time drug business and recent gun purchase ramp up the tension in their friendship. Meanwhile, Stephen tries to be a positive influence on his son, even when they face subtle racism within their own community.
Pushed to the edge, Donald must choose to do the right thing or fight back.
SET IT ON FIRE is inspired by my personal experience growing up as a biracial teenager in Massachusetts. I want to tell this story because I have never seen a film about a teenager of color in suburbia that reflects my experience.
Being African-American and German, my family and I stood out from our ninety-seven percent white community. When I was sixteen, I started to notice subtle racist comments at school and in my community. My cousin got in a fight over a racist joke, my father was called a n*gger by our neighbor and my brother wasn’t allowed to date a girl by her father because of the color of his skin. These type of events shaped my outlook on life as a youth.
Our relationships as teenagers are complicated and fragile. The dynamic between two teenage boys is supportive and competitive, intimate and violent, loyal and mistrustful, all at the same time. Those dynamics are influenced by rivalries with other teens, drugs, sex, violence, straight-up poor decision making and girls. The first time you fall in love can be both a wonderful and disastrous experience as a teen. A new type of experience that you have never had before. A feeling that can cause you to do all types of dumb things. This was my experience as I turned sixteen.
These incidents and more influenced the story that I want to tell with SET IT ON FIRE. With this film, I want to send viewers back to that time in our lives, when our worlds depended so heavily on those complex connections with friends, family and community.
An outsider, Donald is adventurous.
He is ready to go to the limit, but only if necessary.
A troublemaker, Tyler is unpredictable.
A good friend that tends to go too far.
A rebel, Ellie is attracted to bad boys.
A fan of petty crime and hater of her step-dad.
A role model, Stephen is a positive influence, but an overbearing father.
An authority figure, Calvin is protective of his step-daughter whom he loves.