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Darius Goes West
Documentary takes a cross-country trip
By Christopher Johnson-Miller
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Darius Weems
Darius Weems.
(Photo: Courtesy
May 6, 2007

Darius Goes West, a documentary directed by Logan Smalley, is a heartwarming, informative look at the life of a 15-year-old boy who takes a trip across country with 11 friends. What makes this documentary unique is that Darius is suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a fatal genetic disease that gradually deteriorates the skeletal muscles. Darius travels to California on a mission—he wants the MTV program Pimp My Ride to go to work on his wheelchair.

When we meet Darius, he is in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. We see what life is like for Darius from his wheelchair. (Children suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy usually lose the ability to walk by age 12, and only live to be about 20 years old.) When Darius is not in his wheelchair, his mother helps him to do everything.

Darius spends his time playing video games, watching television, and listening to music. His favorite television show is MTV's Pimp My Ride. It's a reality show about a garage in California called West Coast Customs, which restores cars for people who cannot afford to fix up their cars.

Darius decides that he would like nothing better than to have West Coast Customs fix up his wheelchair. He writes a rap letter to MTV about how he would like his wheelchair redone with wheel spinners, a flat-screen TV and a Playstation 2. Time passes and Darius does not get a response from MTV, so he and his friends from Project Reach decide to go to California and ask MTV in person.

Darius and his 11 friends set off across the country in an RV. Their very first stop was a gas station that did not have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. The situation makes Darius begin to worry that MTV's offices would be up a flight of stairs and he would not be able to get up there.

One of the most memorable stops on his trip was the stop at the beach. It was Darius's first time going to the beach. His friends carried him down to the water and held him up in the water. They didn't seem to mind and Darius looked like he was very happy to be there. They stayed at the beach until the sunset, with Darius just staring at the water.

My favorite part of the movie was when Darius is challenged by his friends to eat a spoonful of wasabi, which Darius calls "Gaslabi." He has never come across the spicy substance, so of course he accepts the challenge. When Darius puts the wasabi in his mouth, his eyes start watering and he makes a grab for everyone's drinks. All of his friends are laughing and Darius is drooling. After he finishes cooling his mouth off, Darius smiles and asks for his $10 because he won the challenge.

Unfortunately, in the end, Darius is not able to get his wheelchair pimped out by West Coast Customs. I think he was disappointed, but the experience of leaving his home state for the first time in his life and traveling without his mother probably made up for the disappointment. When he sat down to reflect on his trip, he said his brother Marcus, who died at age 19 from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, gave him the determination to keep going and try new things.