|UK Release Date||23rd March 2018 (Streaming)|
|Starring||Chanté Adams, Nia Long, Mahershala Ali|
|Reviewed||13th May 2018|
Irvin Kershener, director of The Empire Strikes Back said of filmmaking, “There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face.” Remember Luke’s expression when he hears that revelation, the disbelief, the anger, and the acceptance fighting for supremacy as he nurses his freshly cauterised stump? Well, if the rule is good enough for Vader’s son, then surely the Queensbridge Queen of Rap deserves the same cinematic accolade? Arise Roxanne Shanté. Her face says it all.
For those of us who grew up with the fledgling rap sound in the early 80s, Shanté’s Roxanne’s Revenge, a one-take demolition of UTFO’s B-side Roxanne Roxanne was as devastating as a killer strike from the Death Star. Shanté’s weapon of mass destruction led to the Roxanne Wars and about fifty answer records. Roxanne’s Revenge sold 250,000 copies in New York alone. Her delivery was en-pointe, laser precise but totally improvised, vocally dexterous, mischievous, a monster rejection from the girl you’d always loved from afar who now tortured you with the knowledge you’d never be her boyfriend.
For young boys around the world that wasn’t a problem, that was life but for the older men that circled around Shanté, scenting money, or something more sinister, or both, it was. Shanté was only fourteen, hustling to help out her alcoholic mother and three other sisters. What Michael Larnell’s new movie Roxanne Roxanne does unflinchingly is focus on Roxanne’s face a she negotiates life in the projects. Watch how she adjust to her braces, acknowledges her mother’s drinking, the joy of hearing her radio debut, nursing a battered jaw in a photo shoot, clinging onto her son after buying him back from her paedophile partner Cross.
Rap music is always there in the background but its just one thing to Roxanne, not the only thing. It’s a bravura move to hold her vocals back for the opening twenty minutes. We know the rapping, we know the rapper but we need to know the person. Music for this Roxanne is a means to an end, just another hurdle to clear. She’s learnt to be disappointed by men at an early age, dressed in her Sunday best with her sisters waiting for her absent father to take them for ice cream. The outcome is depressingly familiar. Looking for love in all the wrong places.
Any fans of Roxanne Shanté would be lying if they didn’t feel short changed at the amount of musical history left out of Roxanne Roxanne but Juice Crew members Marley Marl, Biz Markie and MC Shan drift in and out of the story alongside her sparing partner Sparky Dee, even a young Nas is offered lyrical advice from Shanté. Roxanne Roxanne portrays them as amateur Oppenheimers, having created a cultural nuclear bomb they have no sense of what would happen should they set it off. The terrible record deals of the early rap pioneers are well documented, yet as the final credits roll you feel another movie is needed to tell this chapter.
Roxanne Roxanne trounces the sanitised Straight Out Of Compton and maybe that’s because Shanté doesn’t have to protect her masculinity and billion-dollar business empire like Dre (Dee Barnes finally had her say on The Defiant Ones) or a multi-million dollar film career like Cube when they acted as producers on their movie. Perhaps it’s because she was a victim of male violence and misogyny rather than a perpetrator. Perhaps her face says it all.
What we have is a raw and honest movie with a razor sharp central performance by Chanté Adams as Roxanne Shanté, Nia Long compelling as her mother Peggy and Mahershala Ali as Cross, a terror clad in a Kangol hat and a mink coat. But this is Shanté’s truth as she raps on Have a Nice Day, “As supreme highness almighty noble topics exponent, and any title for a girl, you can believe I own it.” Let’s hope she got paid her dues as executive producer for being straight up honest.