Reddit Inspires Campaign to Turn New Times Story on Homeless Children Into Film

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Have you ever been so affected by a story it stayed with you for years?

The Internet feels that way about one feature; a viral sensation so big, there's a Kickstarter out there to turn it into a movie. We here at Miami New Times can't help but be pleased. We published the thing back in 1997.

"Myths Over Miami," by Lynda Edwards, captured the real trials and fantastic spiritual tales of Miami's young homeless population. It was a vibrant story of good vs. evil, compelling for its tragic nature yet somehow inspiring for the children's determination. They clung to their beliefs -- that God had been kicked out of heaven by "La Llorona," and only "the Blue Lady" could save them. They needed these tales to cope with their hardships, and they drew haunting pictures of the strange idols and demons they said were more than imaginary.

Now, with a little help from readers like you, "Myths Over Miami" can be the inspiration for an ambitious short film, The Epic of Hershey.

See also: Myths Over Miami

Edward's story is nearly two decades old, but it's still a viral sensation on Reddit. That's where director Douglas McGinness first saw it years ago.

"I read through all of it in one sitting," he says. "At the end of it, I was like 'oh my god, why is there not a movie on this? This is so amazing and heartbreaking. What an incredible story.' It has so many visual elements, it's just begging to be told in a visual format."

The idea swam around in his head but never materialized, until he saw it again on the Reddit front page last September. Having finishing the music video "Don't Ask Me Why" for the band Great Caeser, he wondered what to take up next. Remembering Edwards' feature and realizing it had still not been adapted, he made up his mind.

"What really made me so compelled by this story, in addition to Linda's incredible writing, is just the tragedy of it," he says. "There are these kids who live in one of the biggest cities in America, and they have an incredibly different experience of life than pretty much any other kid who lives in this country. Telling their story is what appealed to me in a huge way."

It appeals to a lot of people, like Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated actor Eric Roberts (King of Gypsies; The Dark Knight). He's already signed on to star opposite 11-year-old Meliki Hurd.

The concept is simple: Hurd plays Hershey, a homeless youth searching the streets of the urban jungle, desperate to find the true name of "the Blue Lady." Just as in "Myths Over Miami," the Blue Lady is the only one who can save children from certain death. In these tales, God has been pushed out of Heaven by La Llorona -- also known as Bloody Mary -- and no longer hears the prayers of believers.

As chaos reigns on Earth and demons walk easily between our world and theirs, adults and angels are powerless to stop them. Only the Blue Lady can help the children from what they perceive as certain death, but she can only help a child if he or she knows and speaks her real name.

The Epic of Hershey is about one child's quest to find that name, what happens when he finds it, and overall, the power of belief.

"He's a kid who is 100 percent defined by belief," McGinness said. "He goes on this journey that we see is quite dangerous at times, and his conversation with Eric Roberts' character is a conversation where Eric tries to poke holes in everything Hershey believes. We see Hershey completely stand his ground for this.

It's important, because I think one of the most important aspects of this article is the idea that these kids really need this. It's not just that they're bored and they're creating this. There might be a little of that, but it's the sense that this is how they cope with and understand their chaotic world. For Hershey, this is more than just some bedtime story he grew up hearing about. This is his world."

Telling the hard stories is McGinness' passion. Even his video for "Don't Ask Me Why" is an exploration on the similarly controversial nature of interracial relationships 20 years ago and the modern gay marriage debate.

"I like to do pieces that are socially minded," he says. "It's definitely something that's always been intriguing to me, to tie into a bigger purpose beyond just the story."

For McGinness, this story isn't just about imaginative kids. It's about raising awareness to the dire plight of so many people society has tossed away, refusing or perhaps not bearing to see.

"I live in New York and unfortunately, the homeless population, you can't hide from it," he says. "There are people on the street right in front you, and it also in some ways, it creates a sense of apathy in people. You're so used to seeing homeless people around, you develop a deep sense of detachment from it. That's one of the major reasons I wanted to set this particular story in New York."

The original author of the story agrees. Like McGinness, she hopes the film can act as a catalyst for discussion and action. During the writing process, It was important to McGinness to get the right interpretation and detail from "Myths Over Miami." He wanted to portray the secret stories and the feelings surrounding them as accurately as possible.

By now, the tales of La Llorona and the Blue Lady have made it all over the country, to the West Coast, Deep South, the Mid West, and the North East. McGinness hoped maybe Edwards could get him in contact with the original children she interviewed, but even Miami New Times couldn't find the 20-year-old records.

"Unfortunately, it was next to impossible," he says. "I'm still holding out for it, honestly. I'm not closing the door. That would be such a nice ending to this story, to have it all come full-circle. Who knows, maybe we launch the film and it does well, and people come forward and say 'hey that was me.'"

It's not a total pipe dream. If all goes well with the Kickstarter campaign and production, the film could be wrapped up and ready by the end of November. While details are hazy, the plan is to premiere the film right here in Miami, where the latest generation of homeless children can see it.

The Kickstarter goal is $35,000, of which $25,230 had been raised at press time. Perks start at a pledge of just $1, and backers get screen credit at only $3. A pledge of $5 gets you a private link to screen the film, and it only gets better from there.

"There are so many short films online, and the whole idea that we have to somehow charge a bunch of money for someone to watch it is kind of alien at this point," McGinness says. "We want people to see it. We want people to be able to enjoy it."

But even more than the perks, donating to this campaign can actually make a difference in a homeless child's life. The campaign has teamed with No Kid Hungry, a national initiative dedicated to ending child hunger. Every dollar raised in the Kickstarter will be matched through a private donor to the No Kid Hungry foundation.

There's still an estimated 1.5 to 2.8 million homeless kids in this country. What exactly do they think of the Blue Lady today? In truth, the story isn't even close to over.

"If the reaction is strong and people really like it, we'd like this to turn into a feature. That's the longer term goal; this is the enticing piece we're making [to] see how people respond to it," he says. "I hope also that people see my short film and get inspired by it again and go out and try to research it. I wonder what the kids in the Miami shelters now believe in? How it's evolved and how it's changed, taking shape. Who knows? It's really exciting, because it's a living thing."

To help fund The Epic of Hershey, donate to the Kickstarter campaign. To learn more about No Kid Hungry, visit nokidhungry.org. Learn more about The Blue Lady and La Llorona by reading the original story "Myths Over Miami" on the Miami New Times.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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