After surviving a shooting at his church while teaching Sunday school to toddlers, Marcel McClinton becomes the first member of the Parkland generation to run for elected office. A 17 year-old Black teenager coming of age, Marcel is fearless and media savvy, but can also be naïve and undisciplined. He goes to prom, builds a team, raises money – and says goodbye to his friends leaving for college. Working class, talented and righteous, Marcel searches for what it means to be a man – and a leader – through the crucible of his campaign. In the end, we see the raw challenges of young people running for office, as well as the inspirational proof they can make a powerful impact.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and rapidly approaching a moment of truth for this nation’s democracy, our filmmaking team is proud to share the nuanced story of a young Black teenager seeking elected office. Director Paloma Martinez grew up in Houston, Texas, the hometown of Marcel McClinton, the main subject of READY OR NOT. Paloma moved back to Houston to Co-Direct this film alongside Co-Director David Modigliani and Producer Rachel Ecklund, who met Marcel while making the HBO documentary RUNNING WITH BETO, which featured the then-16-year-old. As a first generation daughter of immigrants in a working class home, Paloma’s experience parallels Marcel’s in many ways, which she drew upon while making this film.
Paloma connected with Marcel in ways that others could not. When Marcel revealed he only had three dollars to fill his empty gas tank, Paloma was able to share some of her similar experiences and allow him to truly open up on camera. When Marcel’s mom was wary of having a camera in the house for her 4:30am daily wake-up as a school bus driver, Paloma was able to set her at ease. As Marcel navigated the city of Houston — bigger than Boston, Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia combined — Paloma was always oriented and able to anticipate what would happen next. Her own background as a labor organizer in the city gave her political connections and natural street cred as she worked to gain behind-the-scenes access to key endorsement meetings that would test Marcel’s candidacy.
Although audiences of his film, RUNNING WITH BETO, loved Marcel, READY OR NOT Co-Director David Modigliani initially rejected the idea of making a film following Marcel’s City Council campaign for fear of revisiting old ground and tired tropes. However, he was drawn to the idea of a coming of age story set against a political backdrop — a film that could show Marcel and his family navigating his 18th year and his transition to adulthood through the crucible of his campaign to unseat a powerful incumbent on Houston City Council. A film that could ask complex questions about youth leadership and trauma in ways that move behind one-note, inspiration-only pieces. David had earned Marcel’s trust after a year of following him, but was eager to collaborate with someone native to Houston and closer to Marcel’s lived experience. He and Rachel were thrilled Paloma accepted and the film is the product of the relationships and insights both directors brought to bear on the powerful, nuanced story of Marcel and his family.