Movie Review: 'Roxanne Roxanne' Roxanne Shanté Biopic

Photo: Netflix
On March 23rd, movie streaming service Netflix released the long awaited, Sundance approved movie Roxanne Roxanne on the life of old school hip-hop legend Roxanne Shanté. The film starred Nia Long as Shanté's mother, newcomer Chanté Adams as the femcee, and Oscar winner Mashershala "Fine Ass" Ali Shanté's abusive boyfriend, Cross. Pharell Williams and Forest Whitaker were apart of the production team and the film was directed by Michael Larnell.

Shanté was born Lolita Shanté Goodman is Queens, New York. Roxanne grew up in the Queensbridge Projects with her sisters and her mother Ms. Peggy. The fourteen year old battle rapper got her shine during the 1984 "Roxanne Wars" with her song "Roxanne's Revenge" (originally sampled by Billy Squier's loops from 1980 "Big Beat"). The track sold 250,000 records in New York and is listed as one of the greatest diss records in hip-hop. Without further adue, let's get right into the meat (vegan meat alternatives for me) of the movie:

  • The fashion was on point. Dookie chains, door knocker earrings, Kangol hats, Addidas sneakers and track jackets, acid wash mom jeans, all 1980's New York street wear perfection. 
  • Nia Long did the damn thing in her Weezy Jefferson wig. Over the years people have stated that while she's a good actress, Long has seemed to be typecasted within her career. She got her Mo'Nique on Precious moment in this film. I was waiting for her to throw a box set television at Roxanne and tell her to take her ass "down to the welfare". 
  • The actors looked smack like the people in real life. Chanté Adams looks a lot like Roxanne Shanté. The actors who portrayed Marley Marl and MC Shan, Kevin Phillips and Sean "Arnstar" Kirkland really looked like the two pioneers from back in the day. Take notes Wendy Williams and Lifetime. 
  • Ms. Peggy went through hell and back raising her daughters in the projects. Her portrayal expounding her alcoholism, anger, and frustration reminded me of the trauma many Black women living in poverty experience. 
  • Loved the scene between Roxanne Shanté and fellow old school femcee Sparky Dee. That scene is from an actual battle recording between the two and one of my favorite diss records.
  • Overall great acting. I was very convinced this was Queens, New York in 1984.

  • I feel the movie went too fast. I can tell some scenes were cut out. Really wish it would have been longer. So many questions. What about her albums? What happened to her career? Pharell mentioned to Page Six that Roxanne "paved the way for female rappers" which of course I wholeheartedly agree with, however how was this shown throughout the actual film?
  • There weren't enough scenes detailing her life and career as a femcee. 
    • Even with her most iconic song "Roxanne's Revenge", the scene only lasted a few seconds. The Roxanne Wars, which initially sparked the response track, weren't fully explained either. Honestly, that was one of the most disappointing moments in the movie for me. This is one of my personal favorite and one of the most memorable moments in hip-hop. Here is this fourteen year old girl freestyling off the top of her head on which will be noted as one of the greatest diss tracks of all time all in one take and ir was underwhelmingly showcased. 
    • Roxanne even dissed Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, and MC Lyte on her song "Big Mama". I would've loved to see her braggadocios, shit talkin' skills being flexed more in a scene (particularly when she was on camera speaking on female rappers dissing her), especially with that song in particular. 
    • The Boogie Down Productions vs Juice Crew Bridge Wars was another important historical moment in early hip-hop history that Shanté was involved in. Especially when KRS-One claimed in "The Bridge Is Over" "Roxanne Shanté is good for only steady fucking." This moment set the tone for the sexualized dehumanization and demoralization that would later profoundly flourish within hip-hop/rap towards Black women. It should have been covered. 
    • During the scene where Marley Marl accused Roxanne of being a "hoe", the song "Trick or Treat" should have played, in my humble opinion. This would have been perfect for that scene since Roxanne was about collecting her bag, accepting gifts from men, and not giving up the cat for free.
Picture me lettin' a nigga get his dick soaked
Then splittin' and hittin' a mother fucker cold broke
I gotta look out for self, dear
Give me the riches you can keep those other bitches on welfare
Where's my props and all that?
Yeah you're goddamn right that I'm a spoiled-ass brat
"But Shanté, I love you, baby."
But what the fuck have you done for me lately?
I'm not sayin' I got a fee
I'm just sayin' that the pussy ain't for free
I ain't tryin' to play you like a sucker
But if you get in these pants, believe you paid for the motherfucker
It ain't about a nigga peepin' me
It's all about a nigga treatin' me and eatin' me
Playin' niggas in the streets
You either lick or you trick or you treat ("Trick or Treat"- Roxanne Shante, 1992)
    • Bay bay. If that ain't 1996 Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, EYE don't know what is. She was "big mama" before both ladies. This is what I wanted the film to capture. Shanté's rawness, her sass, and spice that differentiated her from other femcees of her time. Her battle rapping background was the beginning of the hardcore female rapper. I'm assuming the production team was unable to get her music for the film, which seems to be an issue in many music themed biopics. 
    • I'm glad the film did portray Roxanne's abuse with her boyfriend Cross, as domestic violence has always been an issue for many women. Let's not forget to mention him being much older than her and impregnating her with her first child as well. I just wish the portrayal of her musicianship was just as significantly showcased as her personal life, especially since both intertwine.
I hate to type this, but I strongly feel if this was a film detailing the life of a male emcee, I think there would have effortlessly been an equal focus on the music portion of his life as well as his personal struggles. I noticed a similar theme in the 2015 Whitney Houston biopic, Whitney. While the made for television film was enjoyable, it appears like the main concept of the film was focused on the late songbird's notoriously tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband Bobby "King of R&B" Brown. Speaking of which, a biopic on Brown's career and life is set to release this fall, we'll see how that goes. Similarly, Roxanne Roxanne focused a lot on Shante's troublesome relationship with the much older Cross, who is probably some kin to R Kelly. 

As much as I love my baby father and husband Nasir Olu Daru Jones, I honestly could have did without his scenes. They were cute, don't get me wrong, but my mood was like, this is Roxanne's movie. I wonder if, and probably when, a Nas biopic comes out would there be two scenes with Shanté as showed in this film. After this film, one wouldn't even think Roxanne was a rapper nor understand her impact. 

Nonetheless, Roxanne Roxanne was necessary in a male dominated field and necessary in a day and age where the early origins, stories, and pioneers of hip-hop are often ignored. The same way Roxanne Shanté opened doors for women in hip-hop, I hope this film opens doors for more women emcee bio films to be created and actually show a focus on music.

Rating: 5/10

Here are some of my favorite Roxanne Shanté songs:

Did you watch Roxanne Roxanne? Liked it, hated it? Neutral? Share your thoughts below!

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