Before Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Cardi B, Remy Ma and Missy Elliott, in 1984 there was 14 year-old rapper Roxanne Shanté. Born Lolita Gooden, the teenager from the Queensbridge Public Housing projects with the ponytail and braces sparked what was known as The Roxanne Wars. Her six-minute freestyle, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” was a response record to UTFO’s B side rap single “Roxanne Roxanne” and became a huge hit.
The real Roxanne Shanté, all glammed up and still rocking a ponytail — but this time it’s clipped on — was the star attraction at the New York Netflix premiere of “Roxanne Roxanne” at the SVA Theater in Chelsea Monday evening.
The two-hour film, written and directed by Michael Larnell, focuses on the hip hop icon’s turbulent life and career. She’s mistreated by men and fleeced by predatory producers and money is a constant struggle but she never loses her spirit. She’s played by recent Carnegie Mellon graduate Chanté Adams, who won a breakthrough actor award for the role at Sundance. Nia Long plays Roxanne’s alcoholic, depressive mother, and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali plays her abusive, older boyfriend who gets her pregnant when is 16.
The movie has impressive credits.Forest Whitaker co-produced, along with Nina Yang Bongiovi, Pharrell Williams and Mimi Valdés. Shanté herself has executive producing credits and there’s an original score by RZA.
In her introductory remarks before the screening, Shanté said, “It’s 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.”
Earlier on the red carpet, she was asked by a reporter if it all really started in the laundry? Legend has it she freestyled “Roxanne’s Revenge” between laundry cycles.
She said it was true, adding, “Everything starts with clean clothes.”
I asked Shanté what it was like being an executive producer of her own story.
“It was incredible because honestly I didn’t even know what the title meant. I just knew that I was there and I was going to give some information and I was going to make sure that the movie was organic and make sure that the story was told the way the story needed to be told, so that’s what I felt was my position and they were like, ‘Yeah, but this is what you’re doing,’ and I said, okay.”
She turned up on set every day but may have confused producing with directing.
“So then the first time I got a chance to really feel like I’m executive producer was the first time I said, ‘Cut!’ and they went, ‘Listen, those cuts cost money. You can’t keep doing cuts whenever you want to. That’s not how it works.’ I was like, ‘Wait a minute, Cut!’” They told her, “Listen now, you’ll learn this more as you start to produce more projects and things like that. You’ll learn how expensive those cuts are.’”
I asked what advice the 48 year-old adult she is now would give the 14 year-old who recorded “Roxanne’s Revenge”?
“Get a lawyer. Get a lawyer that nobody knows. Go and get a lawyer. That’s what you do! Please!”
So she missed out on the big bucks?
“Exactly! So go get a lawyer! Absolutely, that’s what I would tell her but I would also tell her that I love her very much and for her not to worry because it’s going to work out in the end.”
You could also tell her thirty years later you’ll be on a red carpet, I added.
“And you’ll be on a red carpet and not rolled up in one!” Shanté said, beaming.
“Roxanne Roxanne” streams on Netflix beginning Friday, March 23.