lucky the documentary interview with fillmmaker laura checkoway and star lucky

Interview: A Talk With The Filmmaker And Star Of 'Lucky' Documentary

Pictured above: Lucky Torres in a movie still.

There's something communal about struggle. Regardless of a person's background or lifestyle, when someone is struggling, you feel it. You understand it. You empathize with it. Most importantly, you learn from it. One journalist/filmmaker wants Lucky Torres' life to be a tangible experience.

"Lucky has an uncomfortable life and it's an uncomfortable story, but I want us to face that and feel that a little bit with her while we're watching," says Laura Checkoway, creator of the documentary, Lucky, which screened last month during the New York Documentary Festival.

What was born as a magazine feature five years ago evolved into the visual journey of a woman's search for stability. For a significant chunk of her life, Lucky—née Waleska Torres Ruiz but nicknamed after surviving being hit by a NYC yellow cab—has juggled homelessness and unemployment, moving from girlfriend to girlfriend and shelter to shelter with her son, searching for success.

For Checkoway, Lucky's rocky journey was worth more than just a few thousand words. "This is what happens when you decide this magazine story's not enough," she says. Here, VIBE chats with both Checkoway and Lucky about the documentary's intent, mutual learning experiences and life after the cameras have turned off. —Stacy-Ann Ellis

VIBE: Congrats on your first full-length documentary, Laura. What made you pursue Lucky's story in the first place? What drew you to her?
Laura Checkoway: When I started it, I didn't know what publication it was for. Originally VIBE was interested. But VIBE thought it was more like hardcore lesbian gangs. It's not. It's a story of family and young women trying to be themselves. It's not my sensibility what the editors at the time more so wanted it to be, so then I did it for The Fader and it was just a piece about Lucky. Then I started filming.

Was that weird? Switching from writing to filming it?
LC: For me, just having an audio recorder or taking notes as a journalist versus having a camera is such a different dynamic. People want to perform when they see a camera. They take a really long time to get to the place where everyone's comfortable and comfortable that there's a camera there rolling. Even people that love the camera still takes a long time for the camera to feel… you know?

Lucky, was it a weird transition from Laura just writing about you to recording your life?
Lucky Torres: I dunno, I guess not as weird as it would've felt for Laura being a writer and then all of a sudden filming this crazy woman's life. She went from decent to wild within a couple of years. It probably kinda freaked her out, but to me it was just another person there, even when I got tired of the camera.

Laura, did it get wild for you?
LC: You know, I always felt comfortable because of Lucky. And having to cater to celebrities in interviews for so long was very good training for this.

Before the filming even started, can you describe your first encounter with each other?
LC: We were on the Christopher Street Pier in 2007 and Lucky was there. She had her son in a stroller, her sister was there, there were a whole bunch of girls. I remember Lucky came up to me, I was talking with different people, and she put her phone number in my hand and said, "You're not paying enough attention to me, but you need to call me." And that was how we met.

Wow, so strong an approach. So, Lucky, I'm assuming you were already comfortable and wanted your story to be told.
LT: It took a while. I didn't get comfortable overnight, in a year, in two years. Laura filmed me for years, not two years. Whatever people don't see that was edited out, it was a lot of hard times. Emotional, anger, violence, stuff like that. It wasn't easy. It wasn't easy filming me. I always wanted to tell the truth about a person like me from the system to the shelter system to not having anyone. She was willing to share it, do it. It wasn't planned. It just happened. Now that it's being shared, maybe a lot of other people understand the type of people like me instead of stereotyping them and judging them.

What was your first reaction seeing the film played back to you?
LT: When I first watched the film, I didn't like looking at myself on the film. I found something wrong in everything. It was good, her work was good the way she fixed it up, but I just didn't like watching me. Watching back at it like it was… it's like I was trying to take the dream out my head and put it in Laura's hands, she did what she wanted with it. And me watching it is like being replaced. I don't want it in my head anymore. I wanted to let it go.

LC: The first time Lucky saw the whole film was when were were in a huge theater. She was just massive up there, so I think that made it more overwhelming.

And Laura, what was it like seeing people receive your work?
LC: It's absolutely amazing. People are having very powerful reactions to the film and the things that people are saying are really such a gift. The film and Lucky's story are touching people in a way that I'd hoped that it would. Actually, what's been really unexpected and most powerful is that something in it has sparked people to want to not just talk about the film, which I knew that they would and I wanted the film to spark dialogue, but that it sparks them to want to open up and share their stories and some of their own pain and the kind of stuff that people don't normally talk about. Something abut Lucky sharing her own story seems, so far, to be inspiring people to share theirs and that is amazing.

For people who haven't watched the film yet, give us a sample for what a day in the life of Lucky looks like.
LC: Wow, you never know [laughs]. Lucky, do you want to answer that?

LT: I don't know. Everyday's a different day, a different scene, a different mood, a different location. It depends, so I really can't tell you what Lucky's life would be, or in the film what it would've been from morning to night. Laura didn't even know what was gonna happen when she was filming me.

LC: It makes for such an interesting film because Lucky's moving from place to place, shelter to shelter, and trying to find stability. She also has such amazing expressive style, so she always has a different look almost every day. Cinematically that's very interesting because you get to see her with wigs, mohawks, always a different style. She always outdoes herself. As a filmmaker and hopefully a film viewer, that's really interesting. Not to be superficial. That's just visually speaking. But on a deeper level, following somebody that is trying to find stability and doesn't have it yet, yeah you never know. I would go and have the intention of what I thought we'd shoot that day, and sometimes that thing would happen, but there was always a whole lot else as well.

A "just go with it" experience, perhaps?
LC: To some extent, yes. But you have to be sharp with your vision as well.

Lucky, how has life changed for you and your family since the making of the film, if it has at all?
LT: The only thing that's different in my life is I have a fiancee and moved to Detroit with her, somewhere I've never been. The relationship [between me and my sister, Fantasy] has changed. That's the only major change. I'm still struggling and stuff but that's life. Everybody has a struggle, right? But I'll be getting married next summer with my fiancee. I'm excited. I'll finally be with someone that's comfortable with me. That's the most amazing thing ever.

During all that time spent together during the making of this documentary, what have you learned from each other?
LT: What I've learned from Laura from her being in my life is her part of the world, because she was always so jolly, so friendly. Knowing that she was a journalist and had to be a writer and meet different people and things like that. See me, I stood just in a little world with a gay community --actually New York is big -- but in our little world in one location. And I wasn't that friendly. I was like the biggest bitch ever. I learned how to be more like Laura and Laura learned how to be a little more like me.

LC: I learned so much on so many levels. It's too much. I learned a lot from Lucky's resilience and strength and also being so willing to share her flaws and vulnerabilities at the same time. I've been thinking a lot about, not to sound corny, but trying to find a limitless heart and limitless love. That's something that I've just been thinking about these past couple days.

What's been the most memorable part of the experience?
LC: Everything is memorable. Our New York premiere showed to a packed house. There it is up on the big screen. Those are the moments that are supposed to be milestones or maybe the most memorable, but the whole process of this, because I was capturing Lucky's life in the film, I mean it's all very memorable. It's just one of those cases that it's what it takes to capture whatever the journey is [that's] as important.

LT: I'm just as lost as Laura with that. There are so many memorable parts of our journey together, so I can't call it. I just know that as much as she wanted to give up, she never did. As much as I pushed her away and cursed her out, she just held on. I don't know why, but she did. And still is. Every part within the years of me and Laura, learning each others' lives and being in one another's lives was a memorable part, from the good to the bad.

So would you say this is the beginning to your film career or are you going to keep pen-to-paper as your main medium?
LC: I think this was a case where this story felt like it was a film. So I think I'll just share stories in the medium that fits them best. But I love documentary filmmaking and I would love to make more documentaries.

Were there any major inspirations or guidelines while creating the film?
LC: I love music and art and I'm inspired by so much, but I haven't studied film. It was really a learn as you go type of thing.

After all the film buzz goes away and you've both moved on with your lives, do you think you'll keep in close contact?
LC: Yes!

LT: Duh! Me and Laura are gonna always have contact. This is not something everybody else does. This is different. See, everyone else that is in this life of filming, once they're done, they look at is as a job and then that's it. They move on to the next thing. See, me and Laura built a relationship. I wasn't just a project to Laura. That's the difference between a lot of people that are into this. Just into this for work or publicity. Or I guess to test the waters. You see, Laura did more than just film me. She put me in magazines, she wrote about me, she traveled with me. We shared more than just the film. Outside the film, while not filming, we shared a bond. Yes, we're gonna stay in contact. And like I said on radio interviews, Laura ain't going nowhere.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

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Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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