In recent years, as Miami Gardens has dealt with several high-profile shootings and incidents of gun violence, the city has picked up a not-so-flattering nickname among some residents: Murder Gardens.
Now a native of the city is attempting to turn that name into a web series that he hopes will show the grittier sides of Miami Gardens while also telling the story of a single-parent household and a young man trying to avoid violence and gangs that have sprung up in the city. Mark Samuels, the director, thinks it can be in the same vein as critically acclaimed dramas like “The Wire” or “Breaking Bad.”
But some residents and city officials worry that the name will be another cloud over the city’s reputation.
Samuels, who broke into entertainment under his rap persona King Colosus, said that he recognizes the perception and origin of the city’s nickname and he hopes that by telling the story of a father leading a single-family home it can inspire other parents, particularly black fathers, to be more involved in the lives of young people in the city.
He said he was even told by some people to reconsider the title because of the kind of attention it would bring to the city.
“The more you shine a light on the problem the more you can try to address it,” Samuels said. “It’s not something I want to use to glorify violence.”
Samuels said the plot is a sort of coming-of-age story focused on a teenager hoping to avoid gang violence and the adopted father who gives him guidance. The goal is to show a different side of single parenthood, Samuels said.
“I wanted to tell the story of a single father trying to keep his son off the streets and push him in the right direction,” Samuels said.
The trailer for the series was released earlier this month and shows the main character, Chase Washington, interacting with his father and his brother, Rell, mixed in with shots of police cars, chases, guns and scenes of lingerie-clad women. Comments on the YouTube video have mostly been positive.
It’s not something I want to use to glorify violence.
Mark Samuels, the director and writer of Murder Gardens
The show has filmed about three episodes worth of material with about three left to shoot. The filming has happened in houses, on the street and in other locations around South Florida.
It’s Samuels’ first foray into directing and writing a web series — his experience has primarily been directing music videos for local rappers and musicians. His own rap career, as King Colosus, peaked in the 2000s before he transitioned to directing videos.
So far, Samuels said that he’s spent a little under $20,000 on filming and that the majority of the cast and crew is made up of South Florida and Miami Gardens natives, who have been working on a volunteer basis.
“I come from Carol City. The city renamed it Miami Gardens. The streets renamed it ‘Murder Gardens.’ It’s something that I’ve witnessed my whole life,” Ross said in the interview.
Mykita Cherry-Prime, a resident and former City Council candidate, said that she recognizes that the show is only entertainment but called the title offensive.
“They are taking one narrative of some things that happen in the city and painting as if it’s the only thing that happens in the city. I know myself along with other residents would disagree with that,” Cherry-Prime said.
The number of homicides in the city has fluctuated in recent years, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, peaking at 25 homicides in 2012 and dropping to 13 in 2014. Last year the city had 22 homicides; through June of this year there have been 11.
Supporters have expressed their excitement about the show on social media, and some have described the trailer and the coming series as “epic.”
“Check out what my girl and some old coworkers have been working on, looks really good!!” wrote Chris Athans on Facebook.
Others share the opinion of Cherry-Prime and think the city’s crime-related nickname, even beyond the series, is a problem.
“You ingrates really calling my city Murder Gardens ???” wrote Twitter user @jojobaoilhoney.
Mayor Oliver Gilbert and city leaders did not directly respond to the show or its title but instead mentioned the accomplishments of a local chess team that won first place in a national competition.
“We get to choose the story we tell about ourselves. This narrative could have been about the Norwood Elementary chess team,” Gilbert said in an email statement. “There are amazing stories in Miami Gardens that need telling!”
The director said production on the show will continue through the year and he hopes to have the show available on digital platforms such as Video on Demand or digital download by January.