James Whitner Explains Hidden Messages in 'Free Lunch' Short Film Showcasing the Social Status x Nike Dunks

James Whitner went back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to film the 'Free Lunch' short film, which promotes the Social Status x Nike Dunk collaboration.

social status nike dunk free lunch short film

Image via Publicist

social status nike dunk free lunch short film

To shoot the Free Lunch short film, James Whitner wanted to go back to the projects where he grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Although he’s moved out of the neighborhood, he’s still there in many ways. He named his company, The Whitaker Group, after the affordable housing complex he used to call home, the same one featured in his latest short film, and he’s used his platform as an entrepreneur in the streetwear and sneaker space to speak directly to the kid he used to be. 

“All these brands talk about talking to the kid and they talk about community without ever really having a line of sight into what it is their life looks like from their vantage point,” says Whitner, who opened a beSocial community space in the area two months ago. “And I sit on both sides of it. I come from there, and here I am right now sitting on this side of the table. And if I’m going to be one of the leaders of community, I just thought it was important to understand where the kid is now and what the issues are now.”

Whitner wanted to veer away from the aspirational content we see all day on IG, and instead tell a story that many can relate to, including LeBron James, who cosigned the short film on Twitter. Free Lunch, which promotes the Social Status x Nike “Free Lunch” Dunks, documents the journey to get free lunch, a federally assisted meal program for children living in poverty, and introduces us to the cast of characters Whitner came across on a daily basis. He worked with The Turner brothers, who directed the film, and Tyler Clar⁠⁠k, who shot it.

“Most people don’t come back here,” says Whitner, when asked what it’s like to revist his old stomping grounds. “Listen, most people don’t make it to come back. Let’s start with that.”

The short film hints to the plight of growing up poor, but mostly showcases the bright moments that sustain these communities. Here, Whitner explains the significance of the Free Lunch story and details some of the hidden messages they placed throughout the short film. 

social status nike dunk free lunch short film

Where did the idea come from?

For Social Status, we always try to really focus on like the core kid who loves streetwear and sneaker culture. And I was just thinking about like, summertime and the key parts of the day. And then I was like, well, we need to talk about the entire day. And that’s when the idea of free lunch came up. Because that’s how you started your day. It wasn’t like you woke up and got breakfast. Free lunch was breakfast and lunch. So it was less about the place and more about the experience. 

Why was it so important for you to go back to Pennsylvania and shoot it in the same exact home, bedroom you used to live in?

Yeah. I mean, the story is not about me, but I can only leverage my experiences, right. And I grew up in a lot of projects. And I think once you grow up, you just want to go to people’s projects just so you can see if there are any differences.  So for me, it was just like getting back to the heart of it because, you know, I lived that story. So it’s easy. It’s very easy for me to tell it in that setting. But at the same time, like, I don’t want the viewer to know that it’s the projects I grew up in or the bedroom that I grew up in. It’s just no one can say to me how do you know that experience is real. I know it’s real because it was three of us in one bedroom. That was real. 

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There are a lot of characters in the short film. Are they based on characters who are real?

The Turner Brothers came up with the characters. I just told the story. I was just like, “Hey, here’s the story and this is what our journey to free lunch was like.” You gotta walk past the hustlers. And dudes been hustling all night. The hoopers are starting to heat up. They starting to shoot and went to free breakfast already. It’s a journey through your projects. And it’s talking about those relationships too, right. And I think a key relationship in any projects is the youngins’ and the hustlers. And there’s this idea that the hustlers are trying to bait the youngins’ in [to crime] and in a lot of cases, that’s not true. In some cases it is, but more cases than not, the hustlers are trying to help the youngins’ not be them. They are trying to help them make better decisions so they can end up in a better spot. 

Why was it important for you to have the mother say I have to work twice as hard to make half as much to her sons?

I mean, because it’s true. Black women are making much less than what white men are. It’s a glaring difference. It was very pointed that she said it that way. And I gave that message to the Turner Brothers in different ways and I said you can do it subtly or be very direct about it. And the one thing we talked about with the video is we wanted to make sure that we tackle those issues. And for her that’s important? And this is a three part series, and this is only short film number one. We are going to go on a journey with these characters.

Social Status Nike Dunks Free Lunch Short Film
Social Status Nike Dunks Free Lunch Short Film

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