It’s a case of art imitating life and vice versa. This month, a legal thriller about the abuse of an African-American kid in the foster system from producer Peter Samuelson (Arlington Road) is in post-production and readying for festivals. But just last week, the screenwriter for the film Foster Boy won a $45M judgment against a social services agency — the largest award in the history of the state of Illinois in a case involving the death of a toddler in the foster system.
It was a case the producer/screenwriter/lawyer Jay Paul Deratany handled himself.
But a year before Deratany even knew about the the death of 2-year-old Lavandis Hudson in the foster system, the attorney was writing a screenplay about an African-American boy who is abused by a private social services company. Deratany has been practicing law for about 30 years — 16 of them handling cases involving foster care negligence and child neglect.
The Hudson case started a year after he began writing the screenplay. That case came about six years ago, Deratany said, after he was contacted by a lawyer who had read one of his many articles about the abuses of kids in foster care. “I began co-counseling with him and then took over the case,” said Deratany. “I started writing the film seven years ago. I went to the University of California in Riverside and took classes from John Schimmel in screenwriting and received a master’s in screenwriting.” Schimmel was friends with Peter Samuelson who, in turn, asked Deratany if he could see the screenplay, and that’s when the development process began.
Samuelson runs First Star, a non-profit he founded. First Star, under Samuelson’s guidance, has been using higher education to help foster kids develop into vital members of society. There are about 500,000 kids in foster care right now in this country and when they are churned out at age 18 from the foster system, many of them have no where to go and no real support system but themselves which gives way to prostitution, homelessness or crime.
“Everyone who was involved in this film project was very passionate about foster care,” Deratany told Deadline. “There is abuse going on of trying to pull profit out of these kids. There are so many of these (social services) businesses that are about profit over kids. It shouldn’t be a business.”
And Samuelson, who has spent many years helping foster kids also knows the abuses, hence First Star. After some re-writing, Foster Boy was born. The film stars Matthew Modine, Lou Gossett, Jr. and newcomer Shane Paul McGhie, a 2016 USC graduate. The story follows a litigator (Modine) who takes on a for-profit corporation, contracted by the state, which is supposed to provide foster children safe homes and instead places a known sex offender into the same home as the young client (McGhie). Gossett stepped in for James Earl Jones late last year to play the judge.
How much does the film venture off of real life? Not by much, said Deratany. “The film is more dramatic and involves the suspense elements, but alot of the facts about foster kids are true. There is an incentive to make the placement on these kids so it fails so they (social services companies) can make more money. These kids bounce from 10 to 12 foster homes, and they already have PTSD and then they have to go through that. Many of them are harmed significantly and abused. And then they end up in drugs and prostitution (or homeless) and it is a tax on society. If you care about society, you should think about investing in our children. It’s criminal how we are treating these kids.”
Foster Boy, directed by Youssef Delara, is expected to go the festival circuit to find distribution; it will be submitted to film festivals within the next month. It was also produced by Anne-Marie Mackay (The Last Word, The Girl from Nagasaki) and Andrew Sugerman (Conviction, Shop Girl). Schimmel, Thom and Matt Lipari, Max Adler
and Danny Mooney serve as executive producers. The film was entirely financed by equity investment.