Neon and Netflix’s Roxanne Roxanne gets a difficult job done right: telling a Black woman’s story on the screen. It tells that story with no frills, no gimmicks, no myths, and no pulled punches. It’s real from jump. Somehow, the film unfolds these extraordinary events with all the panache of a random ass Thursday in Queensbridge circa 1982.
Note from the author: Because ‘this thing we call Hip-Hop’ is a comparatively young culture, it’s easy to forget that being set in the eighties qualifies Roxanne Roxanne to be a period film. I feel hella old just typing that. Enough about me though.
Roxanne Roxanne is not elevated by any particular thing; the film is as great as the sum of its parts. That said, it’s pretty good. Actors ranged from the experienced black excellence of Nia Long (who absolutely sets every scene she’s in on fire) and Mahershala Ali, to the fresh, young players ready to make a name for themselves down the line.
Roxanne Shante is well played by Chanté Adams in a part out of most actors’ element: period pieces. Homegirl Chanté busted out those rhymes as naturally as breathing. It really was a treat to watch this young woman work.
One of the true strengths of the film lies in how truly effortless it looked. Roxanne Roxanne doesn’t ‘try too hard’, it just nails the facts. Everything in the film was in its right place. The rhythm of speech, the clothing… As a native New Yorker, I hold NYC productions about NYC to hella high standards – this joint delivered. It’s as authentic an experience as you’ll see of this cultural phenomenon outside of a documentary. I’m sure it helped to have the real Roxanne Shanté on hand as a producer along with Pharell Williams and Forest Whitaker to ground the movie in the true grit of eighties Queensbridge.
There was no elegance to apply to Roxanne Shante’s rise to fame and there is no elegance in how her story is told here. Nothing soft, save for the innocence that vanishes from her face only minutes into the film. Roxanne Roxanne walks you through the turbulent years of an extraordinary young woman’s life and into the triumph of her legend. The ‘bridge ain’t over just yet’.