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Coming March 23rd, hip-hop fans and movie lovers will be introduced to the story of pioneering MC Roxanne Shanté in the form of a Netflix biopic called “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The film, which debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, is produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and their respective producing partners, Nina Yang Bongiovi and Mimi Valdés.
Set in the 1980s, the project tells the story of 14-year-old rapper from New York City’s Queensbridge Projects named Lolita Shanté Gooden, known by many as Roxanne Shanté. She made a name for herself as part of the Juice Crew collective with her iconic track “Roxanne’s Revenge” in response to a UTFO single called “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The teenager’s rap song sparked back and forth diss tracks between the two groups, leading to an industry beef that was known as the “Roxanne Wars.” But the young MC’s career was short-lived due to personal struggles outside the industry that included relationship abuse, an early pregnancy and a rocky relationship with her mother. Watch trailer below.
“Usually when you look at hip-hop films and biopics you think, this is a story of this album, or how so and so came up in the business,” the film’s starring actor Mahershala Ali tells The Daily Beast. “But it explores why she kind of disappeared and got derailed, to some degree. I believe that’s going to be a film that really grabs people as well, because it’s very nuanced compared to a lot of music biopics.”
Ali, who plays the role of the rapper’s abusive boyfriend, stars in the film with Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds and Chanté Adams, who plays the title character of Roxanne Shanté. The real Roxanne Shanté serves as executive producer of the project and detailed her journey to writer-director Michael Larnell.
“When I first met Shanté, of course I wanted to get more information about the Roxanne Wars; all the surface stuff, the industry stuff,” Larnell told Rolling Stone. “Then as I started talking to her, the first day, she just broke down how her childhood was before the rap music came. That struck me to the core. Once I heard that story, I had to focus on that.”
While the rapper’s fame may have been short-lived, Williams explains how valuable Shanté’s story is to hip-hop culture and the significance of it being brought to life.
“As a teenager, the Roxanne saga was the first of its type. We had never heard anything like that on the radio,” he tells Rolling Stone. “My producing partner Mimi Valdés has been obsessed with Shanté from the moment she heard ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ on the radio as a teenager. Shanté is a survivor – her story is about perseverance – and any human being can relate to that.”
With the success of the 2015 biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” and the high anticipation around Netflix’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” hopefully more producers, directors, networks and film studios will see the value in bringing the stories of hip-hop greats to life.
To catch Roxanne Shanté’s story, be sure to tune into Netflix on March 23.