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Get to know the cast of Suicide Spenders (2019). Each of the featured actors and actresses was discovered through County Films’ extensive talent search through local Hudson County, New Jersey high schools.
18-year-old Reyhan Lalaoui will be graduating Saint Peter’s University in May with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. She is pursuing a career in diverse content creation, starting with the first project of her production company, County Films—Suicide Spenders.
A lifelong Hudson County resident, Lalaoui was committed to finding other young New Jersey residents to make this project possible. “Kids know what good stories are made of,” she explained. “It was so clear to me that we could make this happen.” The youth cast was gathered after a successful Hudson County talent search and collaborations with local musicians are currently in progress for the soundtrack.
As the writer, director, producer and one of the lead actors of the production, Lalaoui aims to pitch Suicide Spenders to outlets such as Netflix and Hulu upon its completion in Spring 2019. She hopes her role as Anya, a young Moroccan-American, will allow others to explore the nuances of minority mental health.
“I’m in a really unique place,” she noted. “I’m writing for the next generation as a member of the next generation. We need honest conversations about the world we’re growing up in. Suicide Spenders can be one of those voices.”
Stephanie Korley is currently a drama major at High Tech High School in Secaucus, New Jersey. She has moved around quite a bit and has gotten “a whiff of everything.” But having been born and currently living in Jersey City, the city has a special place in her heart. “I’ve been through a lot here. I love it.”
18-year-old Korley is a first-generation American, her parents hailing from Ghana in West Africa. “A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to be an African kid in a diverse setting.” Over her young life, she’s embraced her multicultural identities with grace, learning how to balance with her feet in two worlds.
“I remember being 11 years old and the movie ‘The Help’ came out. I was so excited to see it because it was one of the first times where I saw not only a woman of color, but a woman of my color playing a major role.” In her portrayal of Majesti, Korley hopes to continue shedding a powerful light on the underrepresented voices in her community. “Ever since then, I wanted to be able to give other children what Viola gave me: hope.”
17-year-old Faith Riscoe and her family have roots in Jersey City spanning generations.
A senior at County Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, Riscoe originally planned to pursue a career in computer science. But after taking a theatre elective and having been interested in the subject since middle school, she decided to switch her track to theatre arts. “It helped me get out of my skin,” she added.
Riscoe notes the drought of realistic characters her age in the media. “Teen shows lack diverse characters who are full people. It’s frustrating because it’s not reality.” Riscoe feels that the fact that Suicide Spenders not only stars actual teens, but was written by one, will provide a strong sense of authentic relatability.
Riscoe is half Palestinian, half Polish, and feels that her role as Angel helped her embrace her unique cultural identity. “We’re [Arab-Americans] not in media, especially if you’re mixed.” Through her time in Suicide Spenders, she aspires to push for further representation. “I hope this reaches many more and enlightens them as it has for me.”
Tucker Rodriguez, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was born and raised in Jersey City. His close neighborhood and school friends make up his community. “We’re all human. We’re all Jersey City kids.”
Rodriguez’s mixed background has inspired a distinctly Generation Z open-mindedness about the world around him. “We’re not limited to one track of success or one thing.”
The 19-year-old acknowledges that his unique blend of identities allows him to be a figure for those who might have been searching for themselves on screen for a very long time. “I want to represent my ethnic and cultural background, but also my gender.” As a transgender male, Rodriguez sees a need for people within the LGBTQ+ community to tell their own stories in media. “People are representing communities they’re not a part of. They get to take off their binders at the end of the day.”
Through his role as Matteo, Rodriguez hopes to help audiences find support and connection. “I want to show what it will be like for someone that looks like you,” he explained. “I want to get ‘my kind of truth’ out.”
Aman Mahmood, born and raised in Jersey City, is a senior at High Tech High School in Secaucus, New Jersey. The opportunity to study with students all across the county has led Mahmood to appreciate the talent and determination of his peers. “Times have changed,” he observed. “We don’t need a helping hand. We can figure it out and make it real. We have the drive.”
In regards to the inclusivity of the project, Mahmood pointed out that living in one of the most diverse cities in the country led naturally to the diversity of the cast. “It intrigues audiences. People are naturally curious about each other. They can learn.”
Being a first-generation Pakistani-American, 18-year-old Mahmood has been handed many stereotypes by the media. “Religious, strict, good grades, no freedom, locked into one way of living,” he listed. “But that’s not true. Everyone is different and leads different lives.”
In his role as RJ, Mahmood hopes to subvert these expectations through the talent (and humor) he brings to the project, and tell the stories of his hometown. “Who better to represent the story than people from the city?”
Daniel Safanova is a 17-year-old senior at Hoboken High School in Hoboken, New Jersey, and an active member of their theatre department. His part in this project has led him to consider acting in film, as well as the stage. “This has probably been the most fun I’ve had filming and I can’t wait to pursue acting.”
Safanova’s time living in Hoboken has opened his eyes to the rich variety of perspectives in his community. ”I’ve been living in Hudson County for a while now and seen everyone there is to see,” he observed. “I’ve learned it’s such a diverse county. It’s really interesting learning people’s backgrounds.”
A first-generation Cuban-American, Safanova has struggled with people’s perceptions of his cultural identity due to his outward appearance. “I’m Hispanic, but you wouldn’t be able to tell because my skin color is white. I always have to convince people.”
Safanova hopes to reach others who might be struggling with feeling valid in their cultural identities through his role as Oswald. “I know who I am and where my family comes from. You should feel comfortable with who you are.”