“What About the Kids,” the latest short film from writer and director Jim Wahlberg, highlights the devastating nature of opioid addiction and the role faith plays in recovery and healing.
The film, which premiered virtually on Tuesday night, follows Chloe (Layla Scalisi), the 8-year-old daughter of drug addicts. After her mother dies from a drug overdose, she’s sent to live with her grandparents. Though they love her, taking on the responsibility of a small child forces them to restructure their lives and future. In the face of struggles, Chloe’s grandmother, Debbie (Patti D’Arbanville), relies on her deep faith and prayer to carry her family.
Meanwhile, while seeking treatment at a halfway house, Chloe’s dad (Caleb Scott) grapples with feelings of guilt stemming from his continued drug use, his wife’s death, and the loss of his daughter. The poignant film drives home the fact that opioid addiction has far-reaching and costly effects — yet redemption is always possible.
Ahead of the premiere, Wahlberg, the executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and head of Wahl St. Productions, briefly shared his own story of recovery.
“This is not stuff that I learned from a book, you know this is stuff that I learned from my life,” Wahlberg, who shares his story in his book The Big Hustle, said. “I had what I like to refer to as a tough paper route. You know I got started, very, very young. I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol at a very, very young age, and was out in the street.”
“Now, we're making films about addiction from a faithful perspective,” he continued. “This film is a story about a faithful family and their struggles.”
Though Wahlberg has made over 10 films on addiction, “What About the Kids” is his first foray into the faith-based world, he said. He revealed that the storyline was inspired by the numerous grandparents he’s met over the years forced to raise their grandchildren after losing a child to an overdose.
Their stories “moved me to a point where I knew the stories need to be told,” Wahlberg said.
“I know lots of people that have had to bury their children. I know that this is a very different perspective,” he said, "but it’s like a rock hitting water and the ripples are generational and will go on and on and on.”
For Wahlberg, highlighting the power of prayer amid addiction was of the utmost importance.
“Grandma is praying for her son to just pray,” he said. “That's it. Nothing else. She knows God will help him. She knows God will provide if he'll just take that step toward the Lord.”
A devout Catholic, Wahlberg said faith and prayer played a key role in achieving his own sobriety.
“My relationship with God is the priority,” he said. “I know if I make that first in my life, then there's nothing I can't do. I've tried recovery without God, and what I ended up [with] was no drinks, no drugs, no happiness, just miserable. I thought that the people around me that were talking about their relationship with God as it relates to their recovery were being disingenuous.”
“Until I made a commitment, until I was dropped to my knees, it just wasn't happening for me,’ he continued. “Now I'm blessed to have the undeniable presence of God in my life.”
Following the film's premiere, attendees viewed footage of families affected by opioid use and personal testimonies of pain and recovery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering one in 12 Americans struggle with a substance use disorder, and each year an estimated 47,500 people die from opioid overdoses.
In light of these devastating numbers, reaching those lost in addiction with the hope of the Gospel is crucial, Wahlberg said. He hopes individuals around the country will host viewings in their community to create a discussion around substance abuse.
“It takes all of us on the ground to carry out God’s work," he said.
In an interview ahead of the premiere, Wahlberg told The Christian Post that he’s grateful God has taken the “mess” of his life and “turned it into an asset to glorify Him.”
“My experiences give me more ammunition to reach people that have been through similar circumstances; it gives my message a little more depth and weight than someone that learned answers and solutions from a book,” he said.
“God saved me for me a reason. The best part is, it has nothing to do with me. It’s all by the grace of God.”
Watch "What About the Kids" here.