The Coolest Labels
a feature film screenplay based on the novel
LOGLINE: A teenage journalist pursues love and the story of a lifetime at a troubled public high school in the immediate wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 Miami.
Johnette Derringer rode out Hurricane Andrew at ground zero in Homestead, Florida.
Her town and high school destroyed, Johnette and hundreds of other scholastic refugees head north to attend Root High in a swanky area of Miami less-affected by the storm.
At Root, Johnette embarks on a documentary film project about student life at what’s become the largest and most diverse public high school in Miami in the wake of the most destructive hurricane to make landfall in US history.
Armed with a Sony Handycam, Johnette embeds herself with the school’s most colorful characters, each with a troubled past rooted in Miami’s tumultuous history.
Through her camera’s lens, Johnette realizes the underlying strife that binds Root’s students and sees the spark that could set the school ablaze with anarchy. The question she keeps asking herself is can the imminent uprising be quelled before it turns deadly?
Praise for The Coolest Labels
"This novel is The Outsiders of our time."
"An utterly timely novel."
"A spellbinding novel intermingling racial tensions and coping mechanisms needed to survive Hurricane Andrew."
"I couldn't put it down."
"Melting pots can become delicious concoctions or one hot mess! Fred Smith gets that across in an entertaining and interesting way."
Characters and Potential Cast
Dr. Madeline Petro (female, white, late 60s)
Dr. Petro is a renowned academic and author at the end of a storied career that has embedded her in societal conflict at every turn. She is elderly, frail, and wheelchair-bound, yet instantly becomes the most respected person in any room she enters. She’s dedicated her life to shaping young minds amidst daunting circumstances and will continue to do so until her final breath.
Possible cast: Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
Mose Langdon (male, black, 18)
Mose is the star middle linebacker on Root’s football team. He’s the big man on campus, but that’s where the cliches end. He’s smart, dependable, fiercely loyal, and a natural leader due to his commanding presence--his chiseled physique, gorgeous eyes and easy smile don’t hurt, either. He’s also teenage dad to Mose, jr. Mose is sweet on Johnnie and is always making sure she doesn’t get in over her head in pursuit of her story.
Amp Charles (male, black, 18)
Everyone at Root thinks they’ve got Amp pegged as a hustling thug. He looks the part. He’s got the ride, the clothes, and the rep of an early-1990s G. What no one knows is that Amp is a genius-in-hiding who’s fallen in love with a girl from the wrong side of the border and he’ll do anything to protect her.
Laz Matos (male, Hispanic, 19)
Laz is a Marielito (a child who came to the US when Castro opened the Cuban border in 1980) and one of the most feared people at Root High. His devotion to his sister, Camila, knows no boundaries. He’ll do anything to protect her and will stop at nothing to bring personal justice to anyone who mars his family’s honor.
Roland Allegro (male, Hispanic, 18)
“Rolo” is a second-generation Cuban-American and son of an affluent surgeon. He’s Root’s student body president and Shay Lovelle’s boyfriend, which makes the pair Root’s official first couple. Roland is a respected leader whose words carry weight with Root’s students. He’s honorable to the core, but even he isn’t immune to Shay’s powers of persuasion and manipulation.
Camila Matos (female, Hispanic, 16)
Camila is Laz’s sister. She doesn’t remember the boat ride to America in 1980 but knows how crazed her brother is when it comes to protecting her. That’s why she knew she had to get an abortion when she found out she was pregnant with Amp’s baby. It’s the only way. But maybe, she thinks, the two of them can run away and start a new life and new family together. Maybe.
Victor Jimenez (male, Hispanic, late ‘30s)
Sargent Jimenez is Root High’s school police officer. He didn’t end up there by choice. His career in law enforcement took a drastic turn when he killed a black teen in the line of duty eight years earlier in Miami’s Overtown. The city nearly rioted for the second time in four years when he was acquitted in 1984 thanks to the deft defense skills of his attorney, Everett Lovelle (Shay’s father). These days he walks the beat on Root’s campus, hoping the kids can keep the peace but knowing deep in his soul they won’t.
Jimmy Derringer (male, white, late ‘30s/early ‘40s)
Jimmy is Johnette’s dad. He’s an unabashed racist and prone to violence with little provocation. He’s a self-made success, having established a modest construction company in Homestead, Florida. As dads go, he’s about as awful as it gets; as husbands go, he’s even worse.
Vanessa Derringer (female, white, late ‘30s)
Vanessa is Johnette’s mom, though most of the time she’s the one who needs the care and support. Alcohol has long-since taken over her life. She’s the ultimate self-loathing victim, a battered wife and broken woman who’s incapable of standing up for herself. She can’t leave her husband because they share a dark secret--the kind that, if it weren’t for her daughter, she’d rather die than live with.
About the Director
Nayip Ramos is a Los Angeles-based director known for his kinetic, emotional visual style.
Nayip has long been the top industry choice for emerging talent, social media influencers, and Disney Stars--including Camilla Cabello, Sofia Carson, Jordan Fisher, Alessia Cara, and Kelsea Ballerini.
His videos have amassed over a half-billion views worldwide. His short film "Allen" was accepted to the Cannes Film Festival.
Learn more about Nayip and his work at www.NayipRamos.com.
about the author and screenwriter
Fred Smith grew up in Miami, Florida. He and his family lived off SW 152nd Street in a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. The Coolest Labels is his first novel and is loosely based on his own high school experience in the wake of the storm.
He’s also written The Closet: stories (The title story of which he adapted into a short film) and Invisible Innocence: my story as a homeless youth with Maria Fabian.
Themes in The Coolest Labels:
Set in a public high school in 1992 Miami, The Coolest Labels has several themes that are highly relevant today.
The Power of Citizen Journalism to Drive Public Narrative
The early '90s saw the birth and rise of citizen journalism. The Rodney King Video—perhaps the most socially consequential viral video in history—established a precedent of what can happen when an ordinary person (i.e. not trained media) has a camera in the right place at a tragic time. The Miami Riots of 1980—which erupted when the officers who beat Arthur McDuffie to death were acquitted—set the blueprint for the mob violence that ensued when King’s assailants were acquitted 12 years later. The reason the world doesn’t know Arthur McDuffie but Rodney King is all but a household name is because McDuffiie's death wasn’t caught on tape. The power of the citizen-captured image is realized by several of the characters in The Coolest Labels, some of whom are bent on manipulating the narrative behind the image to suit their own agenda. That’s why a key theme of the movie is about never settling for seeing the world through someone else’s lens lest you settle for their truth…not yours.
Cultural Connection in the Wake of Trauma
The main characters in The Coolest Labels have backstories rooted in the historical events that have shaped Miami’s culture. We meet kids with direct ties to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, The Miami Riots of 1980, and Haiti’s Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1987. Root High’s diverse student body has experienced the trauma of Hurricane Andrew--then the most devastating hurricane to make landfall in US history. Each of these kids has suffered from the storm and now must get on with the task of completing the school year and positioning for future success. United by an invisible cloak of trauma, divided by ethnicity and social class, the question is will the students of the fictitious Root High come together or tear each other apart?
Race, Class, and Identity
Like Miami and the US as a whole, Root High is a melting pot. The Coolest Labels aims to show that the world is seldom as black and white as the media’s soundbites often convey. Through her camera’s lens, Johnette learns there is a profound difference between a black teen born in Miami’s Overtown and raised during the Miami Riots and one who’s immigrated from Haiti to escape the brutal rule of the Duvaliers. Equally different are Cubans born in America whose grandparents fled the island before Castro and the revolution and those who came in 1980 when Castro opened the port at Mariel and flushed Cuba of the revolution’s malcontents and criminals.
Historical events depicted in the movie:
The Cuban Revolution (1959)
Fidel Castro’s ousting of Fulgencio Batista led to the first wave of Cuban immigrants seeking asylum in the US.
Many who fled to the US from Cuba would never see their homeland or their loved ones there again.