“Growing Up Milwaukee” Documentary Goes National To HBO Max!

Childhood Milwaukee Memories

From a bird’s eye view, the city of Milwaukee has the appearance of a thriving city. We see tall buildings, stadiums, and a melting pot of ethnicities, but what do we see when we zoom in? Tyshun Wardlaw, the Milwaukee native and Black filmmaker, takes us behind the lens and shows us what Milwaukee looks like with her new film “Growing up Milwaukee”.

Born and raised on Milwaukee’s north side in the 80’s, Wardlaw recalls having a favorable childhood. More than 30 years later, and she’s seen the drastic changes in the city, especially with the youth.

“That was one of the things that motivated me to create the film,” said Wardlaw. “I know that there’s a huge difference from the youth that’s growing up now and the youth that was growing up in the 90s.”

After Wardlaw graduated high school she left Milwaukee to attend undergraduate school in California, traveling to different states and gaining experience in the media world, while working with people like Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst. But Wardlaw made a choice that is avoided by most people who leave the city, she chose to come back to focus on telling the stories of several issues devastating her hometown. Upon her return, she started Wardlaw Productions, a film production company with an office in Milwaukee and an office soon to be opening in Chicago.

“I realized Milwaukee was shifting drastically. The level of statistics that were coming out of the city in the Black community was staggering,” explained Wardlaw. “For Black people, it’s the worst city to live in, worst incarceration rate, worst economic disparities, etc. and I wanted to be able to create my own story and tell stories about my city, the city I was raised in.”

About the Film

Marquel Jenkins, one of the youth starring in the film, is learning to express his feelings on dealing with abuse and trauma in his home. (Picture by Wardlaw Productions)

Growing Up Milwaukee is a film that was carefully crafted and true to many of our own experiences. The struggle of the Black child in Milwaukee is a topic that deserves national attention, and that was just what Wardlaw was going to get.

“I knew that whatever I did, I needed it to go to a national audience”, said Wardlaw.

Determined to tell our stories, Wardlaw began contacting national networks in hopes that her film would be picked up. After weeks of receiving offers from different networks, Wardlaw closed the deal with HBO to stream Growing Up Milwaukee on their new platform: HBO Max.

In her film, Wardlaw is able to capture the problems of the city but through that same lens she offers solutions. Teen pregnancy, broken households, and juvenile offenses are among some of the worst problems in our city.  With each character: Marquell, Tiana, and Brandon, Wardlaw focuses on each one of these issues and encourages youth to diverge from the path of conformity. An even bigger message from the film is to let our youth know that we’re here for them.

“It’s important to say I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I want to help you walk through this process called life,” said Wardlaw. “It’s pivotal now more than ever to let the youth know we have their backs.”

Tiana represents teen mothers in the film, demonstrating adversity and resilience, she is determined to beat all odds. (Picture by Wardlaw Productions)

Organizations like the American Black Film Festival were instrumental in Wardlaw’s success and it’s just one of many national resources for Black creatives and filmmakers. “We need to be allowing them to learn about their resources. But on a city and state level, I think it’s important for them to find out where they can put funding to help these kids,” she said.

Wardlaw is a big advocate for resilience and perseverance, especially due to her demonstrating these characteristics as a filmmaker. After submitting Growing Up Milwaukee to the Sundance Film Festival and getting rejected, she remained faithful in her work and her ability to be a national filmmaker. She advises new and older filmmakers to always create from their hearts and keep pushing no matter how many times you fall down.

“Moving forward is the best thing you could possibly do,” said Wardlaw. “Even with Sundance, I didn’t get in, but I had that aggressive push to get the film finished and distributed.”

Watch Here

To watch Growing Up Milwaukee, click here.

You can also stream the film on Milwaukee Film’s website from Feb. 22 until Feb. 28. Click here for more info.

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