Everything changed for the Angulo family in January 2010, when 15 year old Mukunda Angulo left his apartment, alone, against his father’s rules. For 14 years, the 7 Angulo siblings were shut away from the world by their controlling father, only allowed to leave a few times a year under his supervision.
From the TEDx stage at TEDxTeen, Mukunda Angulo shares the story of his escape to freedom, but more importantly, the freedom he already had with his imagination. “I wasn’t allowed to leave my apartment,” he says. “My dad wouldn’t allow it. He controlled everything I did in my life. He even controlled my mom. So my entire world existed in my apartment.”
Although the Angulo siblings were confined to a four bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, the children felt they lived a normal life. Homeschooled by their mother, they learned math and science, English and literature, and drew and painted an outside world that they never knew. For fun, they would rollerblade up and down their narrow hallway, learn to play musical instruments; but mostly, they would watch movies.
The thousands of movies children watched were not just seen as entertainment, but as a portal to the outside world. “The only freedom I really had was my imagination,” says Angulo. “And a huge influence came from movies. Now movies were an escape to me, but they were also an actual guidance to life.”
It was not just enough for the siblings to watch the movies they cherished, but to become a part of them. “I watched so many movies for so long I started thinking, why don’t we do these movies?,” he adds. “Play our favorite characters, and that’s how we started doing full length movie reenactments.”
Taking days at a time, the brothers meticulously watched films and transcribed every word of dialogue spoken. It was not enough to sound like the characters, they had to become the characters. Digging through their limited possessions, they made costumes out of cereal boxes, tape, and crayons.
One day, their father, Oscar, left the apartment to get groceries and Angulo left the apartment for the first time on his own. Fearing that he would be seen by his father outside, he chose to wear one of the many masks he and his siblings had created: Michael Myers from John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Dressed as a masked horror movie icon, Angulo visited a bank, a grocery store, and a pharmacy, but was quickly picked up by the police and taken to a nearby psych ward. For most, this would be a frightening experience, but for Angulo, this was great adventure that he had only seen in movies.
Upon returning home from the hospital, Angulo faced his father: “I came back, I told my dad, ‘It’s over, your dictatorship and control over me is over. It’s over for all of us, my brothers, my mom.’ As of now, we are all free.” His father accepted that his family could no longer be kept in captivity and they were freed.
At TEDxTeen, Angulo tells a story of triumph, not tragedy, about the power of imagination and freedom. “Before I walked out that front door, my imagination was the only place that I thought I was free,” says Mukunda. “Your Imagination is your freedom.”
Today, the story of Mukunda and his 5 brothers is the subject of The Wolfpack, a film that won the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Grand Prize, and has changed the lives of the Angulo family .
Watch the full talk here: