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Laramie Movie Scope:
Roxanne Roxanne

The chaotic life of an underage rap queen

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 1, 2019 – This musical biographical film is based on the life of rapper Roxanne Shanté, (born Lolita Shanté Gooden in the Queensbridge Projects of Queens, New York City in 1969). She began rapping at age 9 and became famous as a 14-year-old.

In the film, Roxanne Shanté (played by Chanté Adams of “Monsters and Men,” and played by Taliyah Whitaker as Roxanne Shanté at age 12) is known in the Queensbridge Projects as the best rapper around, constantly winning impromptu rap duels (AKA emcee battles) for money. She raises money for her family by rapping and shoplifting.

Roxanne's mother, Peggy (Nia Long of “Keanu”) is a hard-working woman who insists her children go to school and behave, but her heart is broken when her boyfriend, Dave (Curtiss Cook of “Arbitrage”) skips town with all her money. She becomes a bitter drunk and it is up to Roxanne to support the family. Because of Cross' betrayal, Roxanne trusts no one.

Roxanne is on her way to do the laundry when a neighbor, Marley (Kevin Phillips of “Red Tails”) calls down to her from his window and asks her to come up and rap for him. Marley has an idea for making a recording that is a reply to the rap song U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne.” While she is waiting for the machine at the laundromat to finish, Roxanne records “Roxanne's Revenge,” she just makes it all up on the spot, and it is brilliant.

The “Roxanne's Revenge” single sells 250,000 copies (this is actually the point at which the real Lolita Shanté Gooden changes her name to Roxanne Shanté). Others made replies and the “Roxanne Wars” continued over next two years. The battling songs become an important chapter in the evolution of rap. Ordinarily, in these kinds of movies, this is where the record producer from the big label comes in and the rest is history, but that is not what happened.

The teenager, Roxanne Shanté does go on tour and she does make some money, but she is taken advantage of by adults, including a manipulative hustler and drug dealer, Cross (Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight”). Cross at first seduces her, then physically and sexually abuses her. She becomes a single mother (sex and motherhood are shown in a jump cut in one powerful instant) as a teenager. In one scene she actually has to buy her own child back from Cross.

Roxanne is tough and she's a survivor, though. After all the pain and suffering she hangs in there. Rap artists rely on their street cred for authenticity. Roxanne establishes her street cred not by getting into fights or being a gangster or a dope dealer, but by surviving in world where there doesn't seem to be any hope.

This movie is well acted, but it does seem to operate on a single, rather depressing note throughout. It would have helped if there was more of an emotional story arc to it, and if the movie went on to show what happened to Roxanne later in her life, but it ends not far emotionally from where it starts. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]