HBO Max’s Charm City Kings is a coming-of-age story wrapped up in gang turmoil and the culture of Baltimore’s real-life, inner-city dirt bike crews. But to really appreciate this intense ride, it helps to know a bit more about what it took to bring the story to the screen, exploring the fascinating dirt bikers at the heart of the film, the community, and the storytellers behind this unique portrait.
1. It’s Inspired By A True Story
When we meet the film’s protagonist Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), he’s just a young kid dreaming of joining a group of renegade dirt bikers who, for better or worse, make their presence felt on the streets of Baltimore. It’s his coming-of-age story that we become invested in, but the rich culture and wild lifestyle of The Midnight Clique are actually inspired by some real-life riders. Dirt bike gangs have been a staple on the streets of Baltimore for years and crews like the Twelve O’Clock Boyz — the outfit that the film’s Midnight Clique is modeled after — have gotten a lot of attention. They tear through neighborhood streets, revving their engines and pulling off death-defying stunts, rebelling against the city’s police mandate against dirt bike riding, and giving their community something to cheer for. They might not be the traditional “heroes” of a story like this, but they’re definitely the kind of outlaw icons that can inspire good storytelling.
2. There Are Big Names Behind The Scenes, But The Film Is A Showcase For Up And Comers
Award-winning auteur Barry Jenkins, who has consistently hooked audiences with his devastatingly intimate and nuanced dramas, had a hand in plotting the story, so expect a more layered exploration of masculinity. Along with Jenkins, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are on board as producers, lending their star power to bring this story to the screen. But while big names are great, the heart of the film comes from its fresh talents. Young actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston, who’s already starred in buzzed-about indies, gives a captivating turn here as a boy on the brink of adulthood searching for his place in an unforgiving environment. Additionally, director Angel Manuel Soto draws on his clear passion for honest, unfiltered filmmaking, giving Charm City Kings a realistic, relatable vibe.
3. It Was Filmed On The Streets Of Baltimore
Soto knew that to tell this singular story about a young kid looking for an opportunity to escape the harsh realities of inner-city life, he’d need to aim for authenticity. That’s why the film chose to shoot on location in Baltimore. According to the film’s production notes, sometimes that meant wading into the ongoing war between the dirt bike gangs and police, and sometimes that meant negotiating with locals who are protective of their day to day and neighborhoods. This all to pull off a gritty, raw bit of storytelling that puts you in the driver’s seat, literally.
4. It’s Meek Mill’s Feature Film Debut
Meek Mill is a titan in the world of hip-hop but his role as Blax in Charm City Kings marks his feature film debut. Tasked with playing a flawed mentor to the film’s young protagonist Mouse, Mill needed to bring empathy and a hard exterior to the role of leader of The Midnight Clique. His character is a criminal, yes, but he’s also a man struggling to defeat his own demons and Soto knew that Mill’s charisma and confidence would make you root for him, even when his character is leading the film’s hero down a potentially dangerous path. But it’s not just Mill’s acting talents that made him perfect for the role. The Philadelphia native’s music, along with classic tracks like the Swizz Beatz-produced ‘Ruff Ryder’s Anthem’ from DMX is also a huge part of the overall package with the latter accompanying the film’s most memorable action sequence.
5. Those Bike Stunts? They’re Real.
You can’t have a full-throttle drama about dirt bike rebels without capturing “The Ride” itself, which is what Charm City Kings does in a way we haven’t seen before. The film teamed up with Baltimore heavyweight DeWayne Davis aka “Wheelie Wayne,” to craft action-scenes that gave fans an adrenaline-filled look at life in the driver’s seat. Wielding tricked-out, supped-up rides, Wheelie Wayne recruited some street riders to demonstrate the city’s signature Twelve O’Clock Move that sees riders popping wheelies and maneuvering the bike’s handlebars to mimic clock hands facing high noon. It’s a trick fans will instantly marvel at in the film and one that captures the free-spirit and daredevil attitude of these bikers, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the real riders lending their unique talents to the movie.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough to get you stoked to watch the film, here’s one more chance to check out the trailer.
‘Charm City Kings’ is available to stream right now on HBO MAX.