It’s been 20 years since 11-year-old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was executed by members of his gang after being accused of murdering a teenage girl. The story of the violent end to the violent life of the diminutive sixth-grader made international headlines and helped fuel the idea of Chicago as a place where small children toted guns. And now, at least two sets of filmmakers are telling Yummy’s story.
Chicago-born actor Dusan Brown is portraying Yummy in “Chaining Day,” a film adapted from Sandifer’s true story. Brown’s brother Dante co-stars in the short film, debuting Thursday at the 20th annual Los Angeles Film Fest.
“I normally do comedy but this time I did drama. And I had to cry, but I did it,” says Brown, 12, who has appeared on “How I Met Your Mother” and is the voice lead for “Blaze and the Monster Machines” a new math- and physics-based cartoon coming this fall to Nickelodeon. “My dad actually took me by the tunnel where Yummy was killed. My dad also took me to the corner where Yummy shot the girl. It’s really sad to see a young kid get caught up in such violent and gory things. It hits you right in the heart.”
The 10-minute film was written by Detroit native and 2010 DePaul University grad Chris Bailey. It’s part of a larger program called Project Involve, a diversity fellowship for independent filmmakers. “I wanted to do something,” says Bailey, 26. “It’s not directly Robert’s story, but it’s inspired by his life, and I wanted to do something to also specifically address Chicago and the gang violence going on.”
The point is not to glorify Yummy’s death, but to encourage people to contemplate how far we have, or have not, come.
“One of our goals is not to make another gang film but to humanize the story of a boy put in this situation who is conditioned to man up and not be an innocent child,” says producer Dominic Haxton, 27. “We decided to focus on the relationship between the boy and his older mentor, named Martel [in the film].”
Another filmmaker, Shaiking Mathis, told the Sun-Times in 2013 that was making a documentary about Yummy. The film ultimately released was not a true documentary, but a movie based upon his life. That film, available for a $12 download at Reelhouse.org, purports to also tell Sandifer’s story and features music by local rap artists.
Last year, Mathis told the Sun-Times, “The purpose for creating this particular project is to expose Chicago’s troubled youth to using media to tell a story and how to solve conflict without the use of violence.“
It’s a message that hit home for Brown’s mom Joyce, who is from the West Side and considered that her son is about the same age as the character he portrays. “How will the story be told in a manner where something good will come of it?” says Joyce Brown. ”That’s always our thing in choosing roles. We’re from Chicago, so that could very well have been my son. What message can we convey to let people know there is another option?”
Bailey hopes to raise enough interest to bring the film to a local festival such as the Black Harvest Film Festival. But even if that doesn’t work, he’d still like for locals to see it. “Since I went to school in Chicago I’ve had a few people reach out to me wanting more information about it,” he says. “ There’s a chance we could just have a screening even if it’s not in a festival.”