Netflix film Roxanne Roxanne is a biopic about the most feared MC in Queens, New York, in the 1980s – Roxanne Shanté. Written and directed by Michael Larnell and starring Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali and Nia Long, Roxanne Roxanne aired globally on Netflix on March 23, 2018.
It takes a while to fully understand the lead character Lolita Shanté Gooden in Roxanne Roxanne. At the opening of the Netflix film, she is brought up in a broken home with her abusive, discontented and strict mother. She deals with her family life and the surrounding neighbourhood as if she owns it; with no fear and plenty of bite, however, pinpointing her true motive is problematic. She is surrounded and growing up in a world of selfish men, who desperately lust for her, which leads to undesirable places. It is not until she transforms into her stage name “Roxanne Shanté” where you truly recognise her character. Chanté Adams (the actress who plays her) manages to ensure the limelight is well and truly fixed on the Queens rapper. She makes sure every moment is dramatised, displaying transparent emotions that cannot pass you by.
Putting rap and MC battles aside, Roxanne Roxanne is as much about the pains of her upbringing than how she forms lyrics together. Like the few similar biopics before us – 8 Mile, Notoriousand All Eyez On Me, the film is about life struggles. Of course, there are moments where Roxanne Shanté brings her rap to the stage and predictably defeats anyone in her way, but surprisingly the movie did not make it feel dominant. Her personal life and the people surrounding the rapper steered the direction of the story. Roxanne Shanté has the burden of releasing herself from her abusive mother whilst making a mark in the world. The movie clearly displays hesitance in the young character when she attempts to grow up. Her persistence in moving on and making it on her own are the moments in the movie that excel on the screen. Roxanne Roxanne is a fascinating insight into the Queens rapper, even if it is not necessarily a groundbreaking film. The movie creates intrigue in the fact that you know she largely retired from music at 25, which makes you wonder where the story in the film is going to lead.
Roxanne Roxanne is aided by great supporting performances. A notable observation is Shanté’s mother played by Nia Long. She has a similar impact like the twisted mother in I, Tonya, although she does not disappear for as long. Her mother is important as she is the root of the pain. Her irresponsible father who left the family when young and a mother that has not been able to overcome the separation leads to the development of Roxanne Shanté’s story. Mahershala Ali plays Cross, a man showing invasive romantic interests for the young rapper. An appreciable performance as usual by the actor, but unfortunately his character and many others bring one of my main annoyances of the movie.
I understand Roxanne Roxanne is a depressing coming of age story about a young, driven girl turned aspiring rapper. I also understand it is based on a true story, however, the Netflix film lays on too thick the desperation of men. It has to be acknowledged, but there is more to Roxanne Shanté than men trying to have sex with her. The plot point is ingrained into the writing, where even her bodyguard explicitly discusses his fears that men want to touch her all the time. I wanted to understand more about Roxanne Shanté, not just how she deals with men. There are many themes of her overcoming family life and making an honest living, but there was no real coming of age feel. From a biopic perspective, more is to be expected.
Roxanne Roxanne is okay and brings out a fine leading performance from Chanté Adams, which in turn provides an interesting lead character. Unfortunately, more was to be expected from this biopic; whether it was more focus on her music or her life – it felt slightly undercooked.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.