Sometimes the perfect film comes along at the perfect moment to encapsulate a shift in attitudes.
"Roxanne Roxanne" might just be that movie, because it tells the story of the underappreciated rapper Roxanne Shante, who was one of the most talented performers and emcees during the emergence of hip hop in the early 1980s.
Unfortunately, due to a series of events, her popularity faded as the genre exploded. "Roxanne Roxanne" brings Shante and her talents to a brand new audience, though. I recently had the chance to talk to Roxanne Shante and Chante Adams, who plays her in the biopic, and she explained exactly why that is so important.
When did you first meet Roxanne Shante?
Chante Adams: I only got to meet with her for 30 minutes before shooting started. There was only a week between me being cast and the film starting, and that was just 6 weeks after I graduated theatre school. I remember the first time that I met her I could just hear her heels clicking down the hallway before I actually saw her, and my heart was just racing. But I got to get to know her more through the whole process of making the movie.She was just about there everyday. There were a couple of scenes where she decided to step-out, because it is a very hard movie to watch, and she didn’t want to relive those moments. She was there as much as she possibly could.
Roxanne Shante: There were a few scenes, especially the abuse ones, where watching them being shot made me wish that I could go back in time and help the young Shante. But I was able to be on set for other parts. And it actually felt therapeutic, because I was able to pinpoint where I had been manipulated, and identify certain words, certain things. I wanted other young women to be able to take from the movie those certain familiar signs that could possibly be manipulative or abusive.
Roxanne, what was your reaction when you found out about the biopic? And how involved were you in its development?
RS: I was shocked. But I was also grateful, because this has been a long time coming. It has been 2 years to get this made. For the writing, I sat down with Michael Larnell. And there would be days where we would just walk into the park and I would literally just tell him the story. We would then figure out how it would be best to tell it, he put his expertise into it, and then he turned it into a visual for the film. Anyone who knows me knows that I am truly an open book, especially as far as wanting to discuss what happened to me. Especially because a lot of people can learn from it, and take lessons. There wasn’t any artistic license required because my story is such a great one. I don’t regret anything. I take a lot of pride. Especially in how the younger Roxanne Shante dealt with things. Would the older Roxanne Shante deal with things differently? Absolutely. But I have experienced a lot more. But the younger me handled things in a great way, because of how things turned out.
Do you think Roxanne is still underappreciated?
CA: She had such a big impact on the industry. And I don’t think that people in the industry, and female rappers, know about that. Which is why I am so excited that people in this industry can really learn about her and who paved the way for them. When I asked her about the level that Nicki Minaj and Salt N’ Pepa reached, she was like, ‘We all have jobs in making our way to the top as female rappers. Maybe I held the door open. And then Salt N Pepa walked through. And Nicki Minaj is at the desk.’ She knows that there was an entire process. So I am excited for people in the industry to know her story, and for people from my generation to learn about her. I am 23, and not a lot of people my age knows who she is. But they know who Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah is. So for that people the film is going to be really important.
Why is it so important to tell this story now?
CA: I feel like this film is coming at the perfect time, because this is a time of female empowerment. I just want women to watch this film and take away the message of, ‘We are not alone.’ Shante managed to overcome so much, and came through those things to become the beautiful inspirational woman that she is today. I am so happy that the film is coming out today in this time, and people and women especially are going to get to see it and feel empowered and feel like they should reach out if they can.
RS: I want women to know that you can survive anything. That the main focus needs to be on yourself. Or those that you are responsible for. It is all about how you mentally process things, which allows you to come out of things. I had confidence and ability that allowed me to be so aggressive, and this movie will allow people to be more aware of that.
“Roxanne Roxanne” is released onto Netflix on March 23.