By Chris B. Bennett
The Seattle Medium
Growing up in California, Rhaechyl Walker never dreamed that she would be the face of remembrance as it relates to lost and forgotten lives in America, but her award-winning performance in my name is Myeisha – a fictionalized retelling of the 1998 police shooting of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller in Riverside, California. – is a heart-wrenching reminder of the countless names that have become statistics of police violence.
Prior to being cast for the lead role of Myeisha, Walker, who holds a Bachelors degree in Theater and English from UC-Riverside, was unaware of the incident and was surprised about the lack of information available about it when she was preparing for the role.
“I never heard about it before,” said Walker in an interview with The Seattle Medium during the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). “And even now when you go online to do research about it, you really can’t find much. Which is very sad.”
Walker believes that stories like Miller’s get lost or forgotten because of the frequency that we as a society are exposed to killings, but she is hopeful that people will remain vigilant and continue to speak out about the senseless killings that continue to take place across the country.
“What really just keeps turning in my heart is the fact that as a society we’ve become so desensitized to death because it happens so frequently,” said Walker. “Not just with police officers killing civilians, but even with the mass shootings going on now, and our youth, especially, have become so desensitized to death and seeing it in the social media world in their face everyday.”
“I’m hoping that this film shows them that this was a life that was taken and I hope that they would care enough, even if they didn’t know the person, to realize that life is special. It’s not something to be taken for granted,” she added.
Based on the play “Dreamscape” by Rickerby Hinds, My Name is Myeisha uses hip-hop, spoken word, and dance to dig into the life of an African-American teenager born and raised in the Inland Empire (IE) area of California;” as the medical examiner beatboxes his way through describing each of the 12 bullets that entered her body. Walker — winner of the 2018 Slamdance Acting Award and First runner-up For the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actress at the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival — and co-star John “Faaz” Merchant reprise their roles from the theatrical two-hander, creating a fierce, ferocious, and unforgettable tale of a lost life.
According to Walker, the play’s first performance was at a local open mic in 2011. There were two chairs, two mics and no stage. Over the course of five years, the play garnered international attention and caught the eye of writer and film director Gus Krieger, who co-wrote and directed the screenplay.
[We performed for] whoever reached out to us,” said Walker. “We started very local and we performed at UC-Riverside, and our second year we travelled to UC-Santa Barbara and UCLA, and our fourth or fifth year we went to Hungary, Turkey, Poland and Romania.
“The one thing that John, Rickerby and myself really loved about what Gus Krieger brought to the table was that he didn’t want to change a word from the play and we all definitely gravitated towards that because it’s so close to all of our hearts,” said Walker of the film adaptation.
For Walker, who started re-enacting musicals along with her older sister at the age of 4, the growth of the production and her growth as an actress in just over five years is nothing short of amazing. Watching the film, which is filled with a heavy dose of rap lyrics and hip-hop dance moves, would lead you to believe that Walker was an aspiring hip-hop artist who landed a spot in a movie. But the reality is that she didn’t delve deep into hip-hop culture until her college years.
“My mom watched musicals, so the culture that I knew was theater and plays,” said Walker. “Of course I knew of hip hop and I enjoyed dancing to it, but I didn’t know the culture and the knowledge that was at the roots of it. When this role came around, Rickerby and John schooled me. So that’s when I really dug into where it came from, how it started, why it came around and why we have it in a day.”
While Walker has hopes of one day becoming a full-time actress, her mark on history has already been created. She may not have taken to the streets, participated in a protest marches or rallies, but she has become catalyst for change and awareness in her own right. In the film, her name might be Myeisha but her face on the big screen represents Tyisha Miller and all the other forgotten names of those who were tragically killed by police, a notion that Walker takes very seriously.
“I feel incredibly proud,” says Walker when talking about her role and the film’s impact on our society. “I’m a meditator, so I meditate, and a lot of people may correlate meditation with prayer. So I have my conversations with Tyisha and not just her, but any one person that has had their life taken by law enforcement and I do it for them and for their families because they deserve it. They deserve to have their story told.”
“This is just one person out of countless others,” she continued. “So the fact that our play was so successful, the fact that this film is so successful makes me so proud that I can be that person to represent them.
My Name is Myeisha, which was the winner of the SIFF 2018 FutureWave Award and Best Feature at the 2018 Boston Underground Film Festival, will be featured at the SIFF Cinema Uptown – 511 Queen Anne Ave N. in Seattle this Fri., June 15 at 4:30 p.m.