Julie Benz from Foster Boy talks about how the film exposes abuse, corruption in the foster-care system in the U.S.
Tell us a little about the movie Foster Boy.
Foster Boy is a legal drama about corruption in the for-profit foster care system. It is based on true events.
Foster Boy was written by an attorney and is based on his experience as a top litigator in Chicago. How do you think his first-hand knowledge and experience really lends to the credibility of this film?
Jay Paul Deratany was able to bring his real-life experience as a top litigator to the page. It adds an incredible richness to the film. As a litigator, he prosecuted numerous child welfare cases against for-profit foster-care companies and won. His screenplay pulls together a number of the cases he has prosecuted in order to tell an extremely compelling story and illuminate the bigger issue of corruption in the for-profit foster-care system.
Foster Boy has been described as “Art Activism.” What does that mean to you?
Wow. That’s a powerful and accurate description of Foster Boy. To me, ‘Art Activism’ means the ability to inspire change through art. And that’s exactly what this movie does. It holds up a mirror to a very corrupt system in our country and forces you to look at it. It leaves you wanting to make a difference for these innocent children and to fight for reform.
Why do you think it’s so important to highlight the abuses within the foster-care system in the U.S.?
Foster children are the forgotten children in our country. There are 430,000 children in the foster-care system at any one time. The statistics show that the majority of foster children are abused, neglected and denied basic services. And over half end up homeless, unemployable or incarcerated after aging out of the foster-care system.
What’s your take on for-profit foster care?
It doesn’t work. Profits are frequently prioritized over a child’s well-being. These companies are hard to regulate and are not always transparent with their data. It’s heartbreaking because it’s the children that suffer at the hands of these greedy companies. There’s an incentive to make the placements for these kids to intentionally fail so the company can make more money. It’s criminal.
You play Pamela Dupree in the movie. Can you tell us about your character?
Pamela Dupree is a representation of what it’s like to be a social worker in a for-profit foster-care system. Through flashbacks, we see her struggling to barely make a living and trying to do what’s best for the children… then her life starts to become easier as she moves up the ranks of the company, but her moral compass takes a nosedive. She starts putting profits before the needs of the children who are in the system.
What attracted you to this role?
The script. It grabbed me from page one. I was blown away that it was based on true events.
You play what can be described as “the villain” in this film. How was that for you?
It was difficult. I had to say some things as Pamela that goes against everything I believe in. There were quite a few days when I drove home feeling absolutely horrible about myself. The courtroom scenes were the toughest… Shane Paul McGhie’s portrayal as Jamal is heartbreaking. It took all my strength not to cry. I remember feeling like the most hated woman in that courtroom.
How were you able to get in the frame of mind to play Pamela? What was your process?
I had to reframe Pamela in my mind. My job as an actor is to not pass judgment on a character. Instead of thinking of her as the villain, I had to see her as a very prudent businesswoman. No one ever thinks that the choices they’ve made in life are “evil” … that’s human nature. Pamela has her reasons for why she did what she did. She stands by her actions. She justifies them to herself and to everyone else. In the end, she loses big time.
What did you learn from doing the film?
Our producer, Peter Samuelson, founded First Star — a national non-profit that improves the lives of foster youth by partnering with child welfare services, universities and school districts to ensure foster youth have the academic, life skills and adult support needed to successfully transition to higher education and adulthood. It’s an incredible organization that changes lives. Peter would bring students from the program to the set on a regular basis. It was a very special experience to be able to share the experience of filmmaking with these remarkable kids. And to hear their stories firsthand.
Why do you think anyone considering fostering a child should see this film?
I think it’s important to know if the company you are fostering from is a for-profit company. And to ask questions. Lots of questions. Do your research.
What is the biggest takeaway you want audiences to know about Foster Boy and the foster-care system?
The story of Foster Boy is a dramatization of multiple cases, but the facts are true. Our foster-care system is broken. We need to better invest in these kids and give them every opportunity to succeed. Please visit fosterboy.com to learn more about what you can do to help.