EKAJ is a love story between two drifters, a naive teenager and a hustler. The film capture’s the journey of a runaway in New York City. Ekaj meets Mecca who takes him under his care. Mecca has AIDS and multiple problems of his own. He is high all day but still manages to be the only voice of reason in Ekaj’s hopeless world. They cruise the city together looking for money and places to stay. The core of the movie is Ekaj, who thinks he will become the lover of a rich man and be taken care of for life but ends up finding his dreams quickly shattered. Although he makes some money as a prostitute, he finds himself disposable,replaceable and lacking what it takes to survive in the city. Their mutual loneliness leads to genuine friendship.

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Monique’s Review:

Spoilers below

Ekaj, a 2015 drama by Cati Gonzalez, has become a well-recognized film on the indie circuit. As Gonzalez told me in her email, it has been a part of 64 festivals worldwide between 2016 and 2018, winning 29 awards. It’s also been listed as one of Amazon Prime Video’s Festival Favorites as the best of the OutFest Film Festival.

It’s easy to see why when watching Ekaj–it’s a film that slowly unfolds itself to the viewer, showing us the layers embedded in our eponymous main character (Jake Mestre) as he searches for himself in the wrong people and wrong substances.

The catalyst for Ekaj’s descent into homelessness is is father (Vinny Cruz), who kicks him out for being gay. This is a reality that too many LGBT youth face in our country, and Ekaj becomes one of the statistics, forced to live on the streets of New York and hoping he can find some means of support, even if it means shacking with abusive boyfriends.

The one rock of support Ekaj finds on this journey is Mecca (Badd Idea), a man whose slightly older than Ekaj, but has lived the rough life long enough to gain some wisdom, even if some of his advice is ill-gained (case in point: when he tells Ekaj that everyone like them gets raped because he was raped and everyone he knew had been raped).

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But even in some of the bad advice Mecca doles out, it’s said with the world-weariness of a soul who has had to deal with a bad deck of cards. Mecca’s deck keeps getting worse when he’s diagnosed with AIDS. How he contracted it, we don’t know, but we’re led to believe that it’s because of some of Mecca’s poor decisions that have finally caught up with him.

Jake Mestre and Badd Idea in Ekaj. Both are sitting on the street corner outside a restaurant. Mestre is in a n Iron Maiden tank top and red beanie with black skin-tight jeans. Badd Idea is tattooed up and wearing a white tank top. His ears are gauged.
Jake Mestre and Badd Idea in Ekaj. Cati Gonzalez/IMDB

Throughout the film, we follow Ekaj as he drifts from one bad guy to another, with Mecca being the constant source of positivity in his life. But it’s not completely Ekaj’s fault that he feels he’s only worth the bare minimum in life. It’s Ekaj’s father that zapped any of his son’s self-esteem away.

Ekaj was once a burgeoning artist, and with his “heroin chic” looks, he could easily start an Instagram account and become a model, a career that would put him squarely on a path towards monetary stability, if not a path towards self-worth. Mecca even tells him this in so many words, by saying he’d rather see him be a “fashion whore” than a real one (paraphrasing, of course). In fact, we see Ekaj taking pictures on his phone, leading you to think that he is, in fact, investing in his God-given looks to lift him out of depravity. But instead, he’s only using his body to fulfill someone else’s sexual fantasy, not enrich is own life.

It takes tragedy for Ekaj to truly snap out of it and search for something better for himself. But at least, it seems Ekaj has truly learned from his ordeal in darkness and, like he does at the beginning of the film, changes his haircut, his signal he’s ready to start a new chapter in his life. In a way, Ekaj’s name is a metaphor for himself. As you have probably figured out, “Ekaj” is “Jake” spelled backwards. Ever since his father kicked him out, Ekaj has been living his life backwards. Now, he’s ready to take charge of his own life and live in forward motion.

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I appreciated the film’s slow burn, and I found myself often tut-tutting Ekaj’s bad decisions, as if he could hear me desire him to make a better decision. I also reflected on the amount of kids who are left to fend for themselves because of poor parenting and a society that refuses to uplift and support them. Clearly, humanity is being indicted in every fashionable frame of this film, and the Cinéma vérité style of filmmaking gives the film an even larger air of realism. The script also seems improvised, allowing the actors to speak as their characters would in real life.

Ekaj is a film that will leave you thinking about its message and its characters. Hopefully those who watch it will feel compelled to think about those who might be in similar circumstances to Ekaj. Hopefully, it propels viewers to act with kindness towards others, especially those who are different than them. A small act of kindness could go far in helping someone re-establish themselves and their own self-worth. That kindness can help change the world.

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By Monique