Screenwriter who lived on St. Thomas takes home honors at American Black Film Festival

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ST. THOMAS - Former Virgin Islander Oliver Ottley III now is a heralded screenwriter after sweeping the 2014 American Black Film Festival awards, but he said that he has only just begun.

"The awards are cool, but this is where the work begins. People love the accolades, but they don't necessarily mean you're going to sell," said Ottley, who started writing screenplays only about three years ago.

Ottley today is best known as the screenwriter and producer of the 2013 film "CRU," which tells the story of four characters whose lives were forever changed after they were involved in a near-fatal car accident as teenagers. When they reunite 18 years later, the friends discover secrets about each other that could change the course of their futures.

The drama won in all nominated categories at the 18th annual American Black Film Festival, which took place in late June in New York City.

Ottley's film earned the grand jury prize for best director, Alton Glass; grand jury prize for best screenplay, co-written by Glass and Ottley; grand jury prize for best narrative feature; audience award for best film; and grand jury prize for best actor, Keith Robinson. About 20,000 people - including Kevin Hart, Spike Lee, Ice T, Gayle King, Star Jones, Ashanti and Terrence J - attended the four-day film festival.

Ottley is fast becoming a name in Hollywood. Aside from "CRU," he has worked on a variety of films and television shows, including "Real Husbands of Hollywood."

Ottley, who now lives in Los Angeles, originally is from Augusta, Ga., though he spent a decade living on St. Thomas, in the Paul M. Pearson Gardens housing community, after he graduated from high school in Georgia.

He began his career as a hip hop artist while on St. Thomas, but he said he moved to the West Coast in 2009 when he realized that he would have to leave the island to attain success in his field. Much of his inspiration is derived from his years in Georgia and the territory.

His best films are dramas, as they are based loosely on the experiences that he had and his friends had growing up in rough areas, he said.

"I've lost a lot of homeboys," Ottley said. "One of my biggest inspirations is my cousin, Carl Lettsome Jr. We called him 'Skillet.' I didn't want to do anything for a long time after his death."

Lettsome, who was killed in December 2009, was found shot to death at the Paul M. Pearson Gardens housing community basketball court.

"He was the heartbeat of the 'hood," Ottley said.

When Ottley left the territory soon after his cousin's murder, it was not an easy stairway to success. He spent the first few months homeless in Los Angeles, but then - through hip hop cohorts - he made several invaluable connections, including household names Jamie Foxx and Orlando Jones.

A friend of Jones ended up being Ottley's mentor after allowing Ottley to read one of his screenplays.

"I was just curious. I read a lot, and I was absolutely fascinated," Ottley said of his first time reading a screenplay.

Since then, he has read every screenplay he could get his hands on and has gone through some brutal periods of evolving his own style, he said.

"It was a lot of red-lining. I thought, 'Maybe I shouldn't do this,'" Ottley said.

However, he did not give up and now is making a full career of screenwriting, though he said he still enjoys music.

His greatest love, though, is his family.

"Parenting is the coolest thing that God ever created," he said.

The father of four often finds himself writing about youth because he wants his own children to be inspired and proud and because he feels it is important to reach out to those who can make and be the change that the world needs.

"There's a responsibility to the next generation," Ottley said.

Ottley hopes someday to execute a project in the Virgin Islands, which he said he visits often. However, he wants the project to be a film that takes advantage of what the territory has to offer.

Currently he is working on a drama, several romantic comedies and even is considering working on a science fiction piece.

"Who I am, where I come from, I could never imagine I'd be here," he said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email

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