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.