Written & Directed By: Tayarisha Poe
Cinematography: Jomo Fray
Editor: Kate Abernathy
Cast: Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O’Connor, Ana Mulvoy Ten, Jesse Williams, Gina Torres, Nekhebet Kum Juch, Evan Roe, Francesca Noel, Henry Hunter Hall
Five factions run the underground life of the prestigious Haldwell boarding school. At the head of the most powerful faction – The Spades – sits Selah Summers. By turns charming and callous, she chooses whom to keep close and whom to cut loose, walking the fine line between being feared and loved.
This is a great debut film by director Tayarisha Poe as this is a teen coming of age tale done with style but offers a more diverse view of a kind of tale we have been fed quite a few times before, but this element helps make it seem more fresh. Even if it stays more small and contained due to where it is set.
This film shows the maintenance of power and order socially at a boarding school. Where we see all the machinations to get power and keep it. While taking on challenges and enemies as well as scholastic pursuits. As which group you belong to pretty much labels you and puts you in a certain class.
This is a rare teen tale that shows diversity but shines a light in upper crust African American overachievers. The school is integrated but the character who mainly has a problem with the status quo which is the black students having so much power is a caucasian one.
The film also ends up being a character study as we watch Selah choose an heir of sorts as all these other problems go on around her. She teaches her protege the ropes giving the audience a glimpse and overview into how it all works. As a business under the guise of a social club.
It also presents Selah gaining jealousy at all those close to and around her. As she realizes once she graduates she won’t be queen bee. She will be normal and competing in a bigger space and world. How she can easily be forgotten once she has left. Especially as her protege is a quick study and read to rule.
While Selah is also dealing with a perfectionist mother and her nemesis, a headmaster played by Jessie Williams who suspects her of being the ringleader of most on campus rule breaking. Though his character seems here more to have some kind of authority and adult oriented role As he hands out warnings, suspicions and offer theories.
The film often feels more like a fairy tale because of it’s Presentation or at least having the glow and lightness of a fantasy no matter how dark it might get material wise. As one could chalk it up to black girl magic as a presentation but again. As this isn’t exactly a heroic tale. That argument might be hard to argue.
I can’t say that the film Won’t feel familiar at times. Only offering representation and a different point. Of view a darkened one with more character of color. While being presented majestically. As it is identifiable but does feel Like you have been taken to another world in a good way. As this school seems to be a mini universe of it’s own.