The Netflix film Roxanne, Roxanne is not what hip-hop fans would expect. Its better than that. Less of an origin story about a female emcee, and more of a testimony on African American woman in the Ghettos of America. My only question is, whyd it take so long for someone to tell this story?
As a man raised in a family and neighborhood where single mothers were a normal thing, this film hits right at the heart of an all too familiar issue. Roxanne, Roxanne tells the story of Lolita Shante Gooden A.K.A. Roxanne Shante, hip-hop pioneer straight out of Queensbridge Housing Project in New York City. She stepped on the scene at the age of 15 with the classic diss record Roxannes Revenge. A response to rap group U.T.F.O.s radio hit Roxanne, Roxanne.
Life is a battle. In the early 1980s, the most feared battle MC in Queens, New York, was a fierce teenage girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. At the age of 14, Lolita “Roxanne Shante” Gooden was well on her way to becoming a Hip-Hop legend as she hustled to provide for her family while defending herself from the dangers of the streets.
Directed by Michael Larnell and starring ChanteAdams, the film begins with a pre-teen Shante being led by her mother, played by actress Nia Long, to a rap battle in the Projects. With her hype-girl Ranita by her side, the prize is $50 and mama is down with the cause. I thought it was a dope start to a movie that was about 80s hip-hop culture, but it was much more than that.
First things first, Nia Long kills her role. If that wasnt damn near every black single mother struggling in the hood then I dont know who is. No spoilers but the struggle leads her down some tough roads. She is Shantes strongest supporter and greatest detractor. Raising a family of four girls in QB with no support is real. I have family in those projects and it is not spacious.
Oscar winner Mahershala Ali also co-stars as Shantes neighborhood friend turned baby daddy. A man tied to the criminal world who is way too old to be a love interest of a teenager. His performance is spot on. I love this dude as an actor but I wanted to beat his ass. Thats good acting!
The performances by Long and Ali are the acting glue that makes this story feel real. As for Chante Adamss performance as Shante, it started a little weird to me. I just didnt feel, initially, that her performance was representative of a young girl from Queensbridge Houses. The slang felt forced. The New York accent wasnt on point, and so on and so forth. But as the story progressed I felt like her performance was exactly what it needed to be.
Shante was young when she hit the hip-hop scene. There was an innocence to those early scenes featuring her laughing with friends, and playing big sister. I guess I was looking for her to be the vicious emcee I remembered from Roxannes Revenge. With that said, the lead did her thing. Shante dealt with a lot of drama at a very young age and Chante Adams did an excellent job of conveying that rocky journey.
World Premiere Video of Roxanne Shante’s Roxanne’s Revenge. This was encoded off a VHS tape from around 1984 so the video quality is decent, but not fantastic. The audio, on the other hand is rather good considering how old the tape is.
The men in her life reads like a damn police line up. All bad except for one who damn near became the worst of them all. Dont worry, Im not spoiling anything. I will say this, never once was I offended by the lack of positive men in her life. There are good men in the hood, but poverty turns people sour. Everyone is trying to survive. For better or worse.
So what about the hip-hop story? Its there but it is the background to her life. Yes, Marley Marl and MC Shan are there. Yes, Biz Markie and Cold Chillin records are there. But this is Shantes story and her life off the mic was way more important. This is coming from a true hip-hop fan. There was just enough hip-hop there to remind me who this story was about.
Produced by Forest Whitakers Significant Production and I am OTHER, the look and feel of 1980s New York City were felt. The clothes, hats, coats, and even the earrings were on point. Again, there were times where the slang felt forced but thats just nitpicking.
The only thing I didnt like about this film was the cheap cameo and ending. *Spoilers ahead*
Yes, Nas is Nasir. Yes, he is from Queensbridge. Yes, he probably ran into Shante and kicked some raps. Did it really have to end with a weak pass of the torch from Shante to Nas? Just seemed shoehorned into a story that was already compelling. More nitpicking?
Overall, Roxanne, Roxanne is the #METOO that should be recognized as well. This girl dealt with more as a teenager than some people have ever experienced in their entire lives. Though I would have gone for more hip-hop story and a better ending, this film is well worth the watch. Black Girl Magic has been around for years, you’re just late.