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Chicagoan helps bring nuances of foster system to the screen
by Matt Simonette

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Chicago attorney Jay Paul Deratany, who is gay, recently penned the screenplay for a new film about the inherent dysfunction within the U.S. foster care system—a realm he knows well.

"Practicing law is telling a story when I'm in a courtroom," said Deratany, who added that he finds writing to be especially cathartic when he is telling the stories of injustices that LGBT people face. "It's work, but it's joyful."

The film, Foster Boy, does not center on LGBT characters, but Deratany drew from his own experiences with litigation that involved children struggling within foster care. Matthew Modine ( Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises ) portrays a powerful corporate lawyer who is charged with representing Chicagoan Jamal ( Shane Paul McGhie ) in litigation against the for-profit foster care agency that placed him in a home with a known sex offender. Louis Gossett, Jr. ( Watchmen, An Officer and a Gentleman ) also appears as the judge overseeing the case. Shaquille O'Neal is among the executive producers on Foster Boy, which is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.

Foster Boy is especially critical of the roles that privatization of foster care play creating systems perpetuating abuse. "In a significant number of states, we've allowed the privatization of service-care systems," Deratany said. "A child or a human being is not a 'product.'"

He added that Foster Boy should resonate with many in the LGBT community.

"A lot of kids who are perceived to be part of the LGBT community become more vulnerable to sexual violence," Deratany explained. "I've seen it in case after case. … I want to see children be children, and not be subject to this abuse. I think we can do so much more as a society to prevent this."

Deratany has long been a prolific writer besides practicing law in Chicago; among his notable works have been the play Haram Iran and the screenplay for the 2015 film Saugatuck Cures. He completed an MFA in screenwriting from the University of California at Riverside.

He admitted that he "doesn't sleep a lot" when working on a writing project, but also that his partner is instrumental in helping him balance the passions in his life. Deratany added that he looked forward to Foster Boy finding its audience.

"Sometimes, social awareness films are perceived as being less marketable," he said. "It has got to have a good story, and I think our film has a good story. I think [the story] propels the film forward and I don't think it's just 'talking at the audience.' Hopefully, it's making the audience interested in the story, while still giving them a good message."

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