Attorney Jay Paul Deratany, MFA ’13, advocates for foster youth in court and on the big screen.
By Jessica Weber
Matthew Modine, left, and Shane Paul McGhie in a scene from “Foster Boy.” (Courtesy of “Foster Boy”)
“Foster Boy,” which began production in 2019 and is based on Deratany’s own experiences in the courtroom, tells the story of Jamal Randolph, a young African American man played by Shane Paul McGhie, and his uptight white attorney Michael Trainer, played by Matthew Modine. Randolph is a character who has spent most of his life in foster care, where he was subjected to years of sexual abuse at the hands of an older foster child. Randolph and Trainer struggle to find common ground and must overcome their own biases in order to expose the negligence of a multimillion-dollar for-profit agency. Deratany specifically wanted to shed light on the for-profit aspect of foster care and he failings of the court system to find justice for people of color.
“We can’t ignore the fact that there are so many Black and brown people in foster care,” he said. “Society has ignored this problem, and there’s an inherent racial bias that goes on in the court system.”
As writer and executive producer, Deratany played an active role during the film’s production. Along with providing legal assistance, he contributed to the editing process and was involved in major casting decisions. “Foster Boy” ran the festival circuit in fall 2019, premiering at the Nashville Film Festival, followed by a screening at the International Black Film Festival, also in Nashville. It went on to appear in festivals in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities across the U.S., winning 17 awards through its run. Among the accolades were “Best of Fest” awards from the International Black Film Festival and Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, which Deratany said he is most proud of. Although a wide release was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was shown in outdoor theaters in five U.S. cities in September 2020, first screening at a Los Angeles drive-in. “Foster Boy” has also been picked up by several streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video.