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Before John Boyega swashbuckled his way through space in one of the highest grossing movies of all time, he starred in Malik Vitthal’s powerful independent drama, Imperial Dreams. 

Based on the real life story of Bobby “Yay Yay” Jones, Imperial Dreams centers on Bambi (Boyega), a former gang member and convict, who wants to turn his life around and become writer.

Set in the projects in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, the film follows Bambi as he struggles to break free of his past and set himself, and his family, on a better path.

As a London native Boyega initially didn’t think he would be a good fit for the role because he didn’t know much about Watts. Still he auditioned anyway and turned in a memorable performance that had critics singing his praises.

“Coming from the UK, I didn’t want to disrespect the culture of Watts so I truly had my reservations with taking on that role,” Boyega explained. “But I auditioned via Skype, got the part and spent the next month in Los Angeles soaking up the culture, language and mannerisms.”

Imperial Dreams premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 where it won the Best of NEXT Audience Award. It stars Keke Palmer, Anika Noni Rose, Rotimi Akinosho, and Glenn Plummer.

Unfortunately, despite the positive reviews, Vitthal has yet to find a distributor for his film, but with Boyega’s newfound celebrity, perhaps Imperial Dreams will find its way to theaters soon.

In the meantime, watch the trailer below.

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