Grace in the Wilderness is a memoir written by Scott Riley and co-authored by his daughters Hasha and Libra Riley, and has been defined as a spectrum of raw emotions that explores the gritty yet heartwarming peaks and valleys in the 30-year long endeavor of Scott Riley as he fights his way through the landscape of Vietnam in the U.S. Army, the relationship he developed with his estranged daughters, and his fight to overcome drug addiction: “A family’s story of love, loss and redemption.”
Scott Riley’s vivid, colorful, striking, dark and gritty narrative transports you back to the 1960’s in the jungles of Vietnam where you’re pinned down with his fire team during the monsoon season fighting to the last man as the enemy closed in. An African American soldier in the U.S. Army, Riley goes AWOL and etches out a life with his Asian wife, Ba in the streets of the coastal city of Qui Nho’n while being hunted by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.), local Vietnamese law enforcement and rival criminals, which evokes the allegorical, surreal spirit of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film Apocolypse Now.
The tumultuous ride of Scott’s marriage, drowning in an addiction to Opium, engaging the criminal elements of Vietnam alone in a diminished capacity, being captured and locked up by C.I.D. in a dark, decrepit box and being subjected to subhuman standards compells one to periodically perform a gutt check and ask: Could this have actually happened? To say that the narrative arc of Riley’s time in Vietnam is certainly a fantastic read is a bold understatement to say the least, and worthy of being adapted into an independent film.
With that being said, one is also forced to ask another question: What the hell is so different about Scott Riley’s wartime narrative that hasn’t already been explored in the plethora of war films that preceded his story? The difference is most if not all previous wartime films have always had a central character, the protagonist, who was a white, well seasoned, high-ranking, highly decorated officer or NCO hailing from Special Forces or Rangers that is comfortable operating independently behind enemy lines. Scott Riley, better known as “Scotty” was simply a young infantry soldier that enlisted in the U.S. Army and descended into the dark jungles of Vietnam where he was transformed from an artistic, introverted teenager from the suburbs of New York to a cold, calculating, heartless killing machine.
Riley faced insurmountable odds armed with nothing but raw instinct, and a stolen 45 caliber pistol as he operated with a level of sophistication more indicative of a highly trained CIA agent or British Secret Service operative rather than an Army private who regretted his decision to enlist and wanted to escape by any means necessary. The crowning jewel: This is a true story.
That isn’t to say that his endeavor to fight his addiction to drugs and develop a relationship with his then estranged daughters Hasha and Libra isn’t movie worthy. Their story as well as the story of his family is definitely one that needed to be told. I could easily relate to the pain of abandonment Hasha and Libra experienced yet strived to hold on to the hope that they could one day live a life of happiness as a family with their father, Scott.
In a day and age where prevailing black films seem to be limited to slap stick comedies and inner city drama the possibility of an adaptation of Grace in the Wilderness will take black cinema in an entirely different direction.