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Darius and his crew take a stop at the Grand Canyon on their way to MTV’s Studios in Hollywood

It all started with a cross-country road trip

In the summer of 2005, Darius Weems left his hometown of Athens, Georgia for the first time at age 15 with eleven of his best friends. Their goal: to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s popular show “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ wheelchair.

On this 7,000-mile cross-country journey, Darius saw mountains and dipped his toes into the ocean for the first time. He and his crew evaluated wheelchair accessibility at popular tourist attractions, and celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) underground in Carlsbad Caverns. They hung out on the set of Desperate Housewives with Felicity Huffman and husband William H. Macy (who both appear in the film) and held over a dozen press conferences to raise awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Cameras rolled during every mile, and these first-time filmmakers turned their journey into a documentary, Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life, which has subsequently blossomed into a worldwide grassroots movement.

Move over, Jerry Lewis

DMD is the most common and most severe form of muscular dystrophy. It is 100% fatal, with most children dying in their late teens or early 20s, typically from heart or respiratory failure. It’s the disease Darius has and the disease he watched take his beloved older brother Mario’s life at age 19. Despite the fact that DMD is the number one genetic killer of children in the world, many people have never heard of it. Or they confuse it with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Generations X and Y are particularly clueless, because they don’t know who Jerry Lewis is and aren’t familiar with the annual Labor Day telethon hosted by this 1950s comedian. Darius is changing all that by becoming the spokesperson for muscular dystrophy among the Facebook/mySpace/YouTube/Twitter set. Indeed, since the release of Darius Goes West, Darius’ following has swelled to hundreds of thousands of rabid fans.

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The subject matter of Darius Goes West is serious, but this all-male road trip flick is funny…seriously funny. The movie has won an unprecedented 28 film festival awards, and Darius has appeared on ABC Nightline, The Today Show, Ellen DeGeneres, CNN, and The CBS Early Show.

“Better than the Jonas Brothers!”

Darius Goes West has fans of all ages, but with its powerful themes of friendship and living life to its fullest, the film has particularly struck a chord among middle/high school and college students. For this reason, Darius and his crew hit the road again in 2008-09 and traveled the U.S. visiting schools. In these settings, Darius, with his megawatt smile, was consistently treated like a rock star. “This is better than the Jonas Brothers!” remarked one sixth grader upon meeting “Big Daddy Weems” and his “band of brothers.”

Teachers also give the film high marks, because it comes with lesson plans (that meet the National Standards) in Social Studies, Science, English, and Math for grades 6 through 12—and because it inspires young people to dream big and pursue their passions. According to Dr. Mark Wilson, National Principal of the Year, “It also pulls adolescents ‘out of the mirror’ and motivates them to take action.”