“This story is not just my story. It’s our story. It’s not just the story of one young lady in hip hop,” said hip-hop legend Roxanne Shante in her introductory remarks before the screening of “Roxanne Roxanne,” the Netflix biopic about her turbulent life and career. Written and directed by Michael Larnell, the film celebrated its New York premiere last week at the SVA Theater in Chelsea.
Shante told the packed audience that the film is “the story about the fact of friendships and bonds. It’s a story for the run away. It’s a story for the foster child. It’s a story for the abused woman. It’s a story for the domestic abuse survivor. It’s the story for the oppressed mother, the mother who felt maybe she had let her children down or misled them some type of way. It’s a story about hip hop. It’s a story about the ability to be able to never give up on yourself, to know that in the end that if you stay focused and that you understand who you are, and whose you are, that you will be all right.”
Back in the mid 80’s, when Shante was simply Lolita Gooden, a 14 year-old with a ponytail, braces, and sass, her rap talent outdid all the guys in the city’s hip-hop battles and she became a legend in the Queensbridge Public Housing projects where she lived.
The story, which she confirmed to reporters on the red carpet at the NY premiere, has it she was doing her laundry when a local record stopped her and asked her to do a response to UTFO’s B-side rap single “Roxanne Roxanne,” about a guy’s romantic advances snubbed by the woman of his desires. “Everything starts with clean laundry,” she confirmed.
Her six-minute freestyle, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” is Shante’s take on the female point of view to the situation and it became a huge hit. It’s also resulted in the creation of her name as Roxanne Shante. It inspired some 100 responses to the original and ignited many hip-hop battles.
Chanté Adams stars as Roxanne in an impressive debut that won her the breakthrough actor award at Sundance. Other strong performances feature Oscar-winning actor, Mahershala Ali as Roxanne’s menacing, abusive older boyfriend, and Nia Long as her alcoholic, depressive mother.
Shanté herself executive produced the film, along with Forest Whitaker, who co-produced. Other producers include Nina Yang Bongiovi, Pharrell Williams and Mimi Valdés. There’s an original score by RZA.
On the red carpet, the film’s star, Chanté Adams, said she hoped the movie helped women feel empowered by the struggle and strength of the woman she portrayed. “She (Roxanne) was trying her best to pave the way for so many women out there, so I just want them to learn from her and take something away from each story. You are not alone whatever you are going through and you can survive it.”
She added, “It’s amazing to be able to play such a legend and rap pioneer in our culture and our community. I was really honored. I can’t believe that I got the privilege to play her and I’m grateful. Every single day I wake up and think about that.”
“Roxanne Roxanne” begins streaming tonight on Netflix.