This article was first published by Nash News, a prison newspaper at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, North Carolina. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.
The urban film “Dutch” premiered on Black Entertainment Television (BET) during the first week of June 2021, but the current generation of viewers probably did not know that “Dutch” was originally a trilogy of novels written by a North Carolina prisoner 20 years ago.
Kwame Teague pioneered the urban fiction genre with gritty street tales spearheaded by gangster protagonists reminiscent of the sagas Teague witnessed as a youth. Teague was raised in a Muslim community in Newark, New Jersey, once the stolen car capital of the world.
Despite strict Muslim principles, Teague recalled his neighborhood facing the same struggles as any other inner city district: poverty, violence, crime, racial injustice and heroin addicts who could recite the Koran backwards and forwards. As a result of his upbringing, Teague witnessed how the criminal justice system treated marginalized citizens unfairly.
After being sentenced to life in the early 90s, Teague experienced that unfairness personally. His tumultuous youth and incarceration combined like hot and cold currents to form the perfect storm he needed to write a story that encapsulated the struggles he had faced his entire life. That story was “Dutch,” a tale about an incarcerated gangster facing an invulnerable foe: trial in an American court.
Initially, Teague wanted to write “Dutch“ as a film, but he had no means of film production. He felt the story would be popular because he knew how to communicate with his target audience, the hip-hop community. “Dutch” mirrored popular rap albums of its era with depictions of fancy cars, houses, slick-talking beautiful women and arrogant hustlers clawing their way to the top of the drug game. “Dutch“ was hip-hop in narrative form. Many books released afterward mimicked the same features, but Teague’s book was the first of its kind and dug deeper than surface gangster glam stories told by lesser authors.
Teague credited the success of his book with its usage of the prototypical “rags-to-riches story, showing a hero with his back against the wall, fighting to climb out of the slums.” Teague pointed out that the rags-to-riches story transcended genre: Westerns, Italian gangster movies, and pirate films are all urban stories told from a different perspective. Even the story about the stock broker who started out as a janitor is an urban story. It is universal, and everybody relates to it.
In “Dutch,” Teague exploited the commonality of human struggle to help upright citizens identify with a black gangster who many would consider a stain on society. Dutch the outlaw, symbolized society’s confrontation with the unjust powers that be. When Dutch triumphed, the people triumphed, by any means necessary. Dutch embodied the people’s revolution on paper.
“Dutch” resonated with Manny Halley, an entertainment manager who handled the careers of Keisha Cole, Nicki Minaj and Young Thug. Halley wanted to break into the film industry and began talking to Teague about adapting “Dutch” as a screenplay. Teague said that it took about eight years to get the right people in place, but in early 2021, “Dutch” was released in AMC theaters.
Seeing his work on the silver screen did not complete Teague’s life plan, however. He has other projects in the works: “Dynasty with Ving Rhames,” “Angel,” with MC Lyte and “Champagne” with Teanna Taylor, all scheduled for production soon.
Aside from films, Teague is anxious to restart the creative writing class he taught prior to coronavirus restrictions.
One of the lessons he teaches his students is: “Tell your story, and when it resonates with the right audience, it will be a success.” Just like “Dutch.”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.