How Andrew Renzi Got Drake Involved In His Documentary About Deported U.S. Veterans

Drake
Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images

Drake attending the UK premiere of Top Boy at the Hackney Picturehouse on Sept. 4, 2019 in London, England.

The documentary Ready For War, directed by Andrew Renzi and executive produced by Drake and co-manager Adel Nur (a.k.a. Future The Prince), premiered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and the subject might infuriate some people.

An immigrant joins the U.S. military, fights for their country, returns to America with PTSD and self-medicates on drugs and alcohol. Sadly, that part of the story is familiar. What most don’t know is if they get arrested on a drug charge or other crime and serve their time, afterwards they are deported – to a country that is not their home, where often they have no family, no money and know no one.

“They don’t even think about that either because they think after they join the military that they’re getting their citizenship automatically,” director Andrew Renzi tells Billboard. “A lot of them are confused about the bureaucracy of it all. So they’re just as confused as we are, even up until the day that they’re supposed to parole. They go through their prison sentences with the understanding that they’re going home, and then they just get picked up by ICE and get deported.”

Ready For War follows three such cases. According to the film synopsis, their C.V.s in a nutshell are: “Miguel Perez grew up in Chicago and did two tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury. Back in the US, he was arrested for a non-violent drug charge and deported away from his parents and children in Chicago to Mexico, where he has no support. Hector Barajas suffered a similar fate. The former US Army 82nd Airborne Specialist was deported in 2004 and dedicates himself to running the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana. Lastly, there is the masked "El Vet," a soldier ejected by the U.S. whose strongest job prospect was to become a killer for the cartels."

Drake previously served as an executive producer on the 2018 police violence drama Monsters and Men, which tackles police violence, corruption and racism, and 2017’s The Carter Effect about Raptors basketball star Vince Carter.

How did Renzi get two Canadians in the music biz involved in a doc about deported American servicemen?

“I was friendly with some people on his team, his manager, Future, and Anthony Gonzalez. Very coincidentally I sent a teaser that I'd been cutting really early on [of the film] to my editor to say, ‘Get ready, we're going to be making this movie together,’ and he was sitting with Drake's manager. Drake’s manager was like, ‘This is the kind of stuff we're interested in,’ then once it got up to him, I guess it activated,” Renzi explains.

“I think that where it comes from, from them, is they're getting involved with and aligning themselves with art in the entertainment community. They have TV shows like Euphoria; they have Top Boy; they have these great projects that they think are going to matter. I can't speak to his politics at all to be honest with you. It's really just about things that they feel they can drive conversations to and things that they can steer in the right direction and this was something that they felt made sense for that.”

Asked if there was anything specific in Ready For War that intrigued Drake, Renzi surmises, “I think that there's a bunch of things. I know that the cartel aspect was interesting because of the idea that we could train soldiers and they could end up in the cartel. That is something intriguing to a lot of people. And then the idea that that can be a Trojan Horse into something that's a little more important and a little more social was probably something he was drawn to.  

“Obviously, you'd have to ask him about the specific politics and what really made him interested, but I just know that on a creative level, that's a guy that really understands the creative process and understands how to support and fight for what you believe in as an artist. The big value is having someone that I knew would support me and offer feedback in ways I'm not thinking about because he's entrenched in this idea of how to release something to the world.” [Billboard requested to interview Drake but was told he wasn’t doing press.]

Renzi is hoping his documentary will serve as a squeaky wheel and get some attention on an unjust policy that goes against American values and the oft-touted assurance that America takes care of its veterans.

“Obviously, I have no crystal ball with this kind of thing, but you hope that a movie like this can be loud enough,” he says. “I'm so thankful I have like these partners that can make it loud. You got Showtime; you have Drake; you have these people that can get people to pay attention. And as a result of that, maybe something happens.”

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