Single mom Falicia Blakely was just 18 years old when she murdered three men. On the witness stand, she later claimed that she’d been acting under orders from her abusive pimp in two of the murders. Falicia was facing the death penalty during her trial, and is now serving a life sentence in prison. The alleged pimp was not charged.

There was something in Falicia’s story that intrigued Tasha Smith (you might know her better as Cookie’s little sister, Carol, in Empire) to the point that she agreed to take it on as her first-ever full-length movie project as a director. It was that goose walking across her grave – a sense of recognition. “If I didn’t make the right choices, my life could have ended up on another path,” says Tasha. “I feel like I could have been her (Falicia)… growing up in a single-parent home, not having her father around, being vulnerable, being insecure, needing love, all of those things, I understand it.”

Someone like me

Tasha was 14 years old when she dropped out of school. “It was a place where I dealt with sexual, physical abuse, a place where I did all kinds of drugs. I was doing cocaine at the age of 14. I really could have been a crackhead today," she reveals. “I have a real strong affinity for young women, and young women in particular that have had a lot of hardship within the urban community,” adds Tasha. “I had my experiences at the strip club, but I got another choice when I moved to California and started pursuing my comedy and acting career. I’m here now talking to you about my directorial debut, but Falicia Blakely is spending the rest of her life in prison.”

Somebody’s lack of love

Tasha wants her film to wave a red flag in front of young women who are so lacking in love in the homes they were raised in, that they’re willing to do anything, and suffer anything, for a man who claims to love them – even as he’s beating them and exploiting their bodies. “For me it was a cautionary moment of storytelling because I wanted to figure out how I can stop this from happening again. So it was really [told] from Falicia’s perspective, and her vulnerability and her pain and the manipulation that she encountered, that I believe caused her to make those choices. It’s all about influence.”

Bad company

For Niatia Kirkland (rapper Lil Mama, star of the Growing Up Hip Hop reality show) who plays Falicia, influence depends on your vulnerability to the company you keep. “We are different people depending on who we are with. It brings out a different part of us,” she explains. “As I watched the film, I was able to see how weak and vulnerable I was with him [Lance Gross’s character, Dino, the character who stands in for Falicia’s pimp in the movie]. I was in a space where I was waiting for his call, but with my friend I would speak up more and have more energy where I can run the show a little bit. I may fight my mom back, but I wouldn’t try that with him. Those characteristics show up in a lot of people’s lives.”

And to a man who makes his living through the sexual exploitation of women, that passivity and submissiveness – whether it is beaten into a woman by a man or a culture – is an invitation to abuse. “It makes me sad when I think about how these young girls are falling [victim] to sex trafficking,” says Tasha. “It’s good for people to be aware of the predators who are out there. Maybe the Dinos of the world will look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can’t make these decisions that are going to destroy someone’s life.’”

In her words

Falicia herself has watched the film behind bars and comments, “Seeing the movie was emotional… It’s so sad how naive I was, how my mind was manipulated. I hope that women, young ladies and teenage girls, can see how we give way too much of ourselves to men, to people in general. We accommodate to the point we lose sight of ourselves, and then we are left to figure how to move forward with our lives once that individual is out of the picture.”

When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story airs Saturday, 23 May 2020 on Lifetime (131) at 19:20

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