Queens native Roxanne Shanté — born Lolita Shanté Gooden — became a teen rap sensation in the '80s, at a time when hearing female rappers on the radio was rare.
The film “Roxanne, Roxanne” tells the story of Shanté’s rap career, which began when she was just 14, but it also tracks her less public struggles with poverty, domestic abuse and early pregnancy.
The Frame's host, John Horn, met up with writer-director Michael Larnell at the Sundance Film Festival to hear more about the project, and why Roxanne Shanté made such a compelling subject.
Why he wanted to tell Shanté's story:
I knew her name because I was into hip-hop and I hung around older people. So I knew her name, but I really didn't know her music or anything. I knew she was a battle rapper, I knew she could rap. And then when they sent me her first music video, "Roxanne's Revenge," and I saw this young girl on the screen — just popping off the screen — I immediately wanted to know her story.
She was fierce, you know, like fearless. I think [her New York neighborhood] Queensbridge brought that out of her. So before she even got onto the rap scene, she was already a known battle rapper in the community. So it was nothing for her. And then she was like the first female rap artist to get airplay on the radio in New York, so that kind of paved the way for many, many people behind her.
On Shanté's experience growing up in Queensbridge, NY:
It was rough. Her stories were [that] some parts of the area, police wouldn't even drive down the street.
[Shanté's mother] had to be hard, no nonsense. One of her rules was nobody should be out past 9 p.m. She wanted her kids in the house. Past 9 p.m. you can't come back in. So that's one way of keeping her kids out of trouble.
On balancing good storytelling with accuracy:
That was probably the most difficult part of the screenwriting, just to get it right. I wanted to get it accurate. I wanted to stay truthful to her story, but then at the same time, it's a movie. So you have to change stuff and rework things. So I would combine some characters. Then her mom —that was a difficult thing because she dealt with substance abuse a little bit, alcoholism. So I had to figure out how to show that, but not over-embellish it.
The message he hopes audiences take away:
Shanté overcoming. The courage of her overcoming the trials and tribulations ... We're about to embark on some interesting times, so I think everyone — male or female — can take some [inspiration from Shanté]. No matter what gets in your way, you can overcome anything if you just go for it. Don't let anything stop you.
"Roxanne, Roxanne" is available March 23 on Netflix.