Roxanne, Roxanne is a biopic based on the life of one of Hip Hop’s first leading ladies, Lolita Gooden aka Roxanne Shanté, I highly anticipated this film’s March 23rd release by Netflix, as the “golden era” of Hip Hop took place during my formative years. However, this film is not a celebration of Hip Hop nostalgia. Instead, the writer and director, Michael Larell, chose to focus on the challenges Roxanne faced in her personal life behind the scenes. This was a refreshing surprise.
Known as a fierce battle MC from Queensbridge Projects, Gooden rose to fame at age fourteen after recording a diss track entitled Roxanne’s Revenge. The film begins before this track is recorded. Roxanne’s Revenge was released in 1984 in response to the UTFO hit, Roxanne, Roxanne.
Roxanne’s mom, Ms. Peggy (Nia Long) is a harsh, broken woman, twice abandoned; first, by the father of her children, and then, by her boyfriend, Mr. Lester. As Ms. Peggy drowns herself in alcohol, Shanté is thrust into an adult role of caring for herself and her sisters. Hip Hop helps to provide both a financial and emotional outlet for Shanté, most notably providing a mask to hide her vulnerability as a young child.
It is difficult to watch the cycle of abuse Roxanne suffers, particularly at the hands of men who enter her life. Cross (Mahershala Ali) is a particularly disgusting pedophile who begins a ‘relationship’ with Roxanne that includes showering her with expensive gifts to build her trust. As time progresses, he isolates her from her family and friends and beats her repeatedly, irrationally claiming that violence and love are one and the same.
Although the film provides insight into the making of Roxanne’s Revenge and introduces a few members of the Juice Crew, the script fails to provide adequate exposition of UTFO and the magnitude of their cultural influence. This is something that could have been accomplished with very little fanfare by strategically adding a scene or two. Without this information, the impact of Shanté’s success is one dimensional in that we see the impact it had on her life, but, we are not fully made privy to the movement this song helped to accelerate for women in Hip Hop. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the hip hop genre during this time need this additional information to fully embrace Shanté’s significance. I benefited directly from this movement as an MC by being invited to bless mics in situations in which I was previously ignored.
In spite of this oversight, Roxanne, Roxanne is a celebration of a trailblazer that proves to be inspirational. It’s about time this story finally made it to the screen.