Michael Larnell – who made his feature directorial debut with last year’s “Cronies” which was executive produced by Spike Lee – is currently in post-production on his next film, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” which is being produced by Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions and Pharrell Williams’ IamOTHER Entertainment.
The film, set in the 1980s, tells the story of a 14-year-old rap prodigy from New York City’s Queensbridge Projects named Lolita Shante Gooden, who would go onto become what hip hop fans know her as: Roxanne Shanté.
The plot summary reads: In the early 1980s, the most feared battle emcee in Queens, New York, was a fierce teenage girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. At the age of 14, Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden was well on her way to becoming a hip-hop legend as she hustled to provide for her family while defending herself from the dangers of the streets of the Queensbridge Projects in NYC.
The actress playing Lolita/Roxanne is being kept a secret for now, and will likely be *unveiled* when the film premieres.
Joining the mystery actress in front of the camera are a few names you’d recognize, like Nia Long, who will be playing her mother, as well as Mahershala Ali, Elvis Nolasco, Jermel Howard, Sean Ringgold, Curtiss Cook, and others, including relative newcomers like Eden Duncan-Smith, as well as actors playing familiar names from the real Roxanne Shanté’s circle, like Biz Markie, MC Shan and other early hip hop stars.
There isn’t much available online at this time about the project, beyond the basics. But I did find a recent interview Mahershala Ali gave to The Daily Beast in late August, which covered Netflix’s “Marvel’s Luke Cage” series, the indie sneaker drama “Kicks,” and Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” (all projects he appears in). In the interview, Ali shared that “Roxanne, Roxanne” will defy expectations of what audiences have come to expect what rap biopics are supposed to be: “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… 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.”
“Roxanne, Roxanne,” directed by Michael Larnell, from a script he also wrote, is produced by Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Pharrell Williams, Mimi Valdés, and Erica Brady.
The real Roxanne Shanté is listed as an executive producer, so she’s involved in some way.
A distributor isn’t attached at this time, although, like previous Whitaker/Bongiovi produced films (“Dope” and “Fruitvale Station” to name two), I wouldn’t be surprised if “Roxanne, Roxanne” makes its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Certainly one to watch, given the talent and track record of those involved, in front of and behind the camera.