Home Doll industry The Hip-Hop Industry Explored Through A Teenager’s Eyes – Deadline

The Hip-Hop Industry Explored Through A Teenager’s Eyes – Deadline


On the way up, directed by actress-turned-director Sanaa Lathan and written by Zora Howard (Premature) and Kay Oyegun, is based on the book by acclaimed author Angie Thomas (The hate you give). The film explores the many facets of the black girl through hip-hop music and the music industry in general. The novel is 464 pages, and the movie tries to pack all of this information into two hours, which sometimes overshadows the message. But what works is that it speaks to an often overlooked demographic and rap culture that is rarely explored from a woman’s perspective.

The film begins with Bri being abandoned by her drug addict mother Jay (Lathan). The memory traumatizes her throughout her teenage years until she is introduced at the age of 16 (played by Jamila C. Gray). She also mourns the death of her father, a former rapper called Law from the Garden Heights. She wants to be like her father and frequents “The Ring”, a place she calls the “Hunger Games of rap”, where lyricists compete for cash prizes. Her Aunt Pooh (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is still involved in gang life, guides her as a sort of manager. During her first attempt at a fight in the ring, Bri chokes. However, she eventually wins and quickly becomes a local celebrity overnight.

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She lives with her mother now. Jay is sober and does odd jobs to make ends meet. At school, Bri sells M&M’s and Skittles to earn some spending money, but an altercation with school officers becomes suspicious and they think she’s dealing drugs. When the cops demand to look in her bag, she resists and is then tackled to the ground in excessive use of force and suspended from school.

Poo gives Bri an excuse as to why her career isn’t moving faster and Bri loses faith in her aunt’s ability to handle her. She ends up teaming up with Supreme (Cliff “Method Man” Smith), who promises her studio time, fame, and more money than she ever imagined. During her journey with Supreme, she learns the price of selling her soul and that not all money is good.

Thematically, On the way up say many things at once. Hints of race, gender, racism, and misogynoir are there, and each of those elements doesn’t have enough time to flesh out. The movie plays like it’s a race against time to figure it all out before time runs out. But life as a black girl/woman is all at once, right? These things will happen at least once in your life. Seeing more scrutiny of women in the music industry would have made the movie stronger, but the script doesn’t do enough to get the message across.

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What’s odd is that there aren’t many positive black female influences in Bri’s story. Sure, they’re all good people, but her mother is a recovering drug addict who struggles financially. Her aunt is still involved in gang activity, and even another woman Bri later raps about is seen as a fake, fake factory in the Barbie doll industry. I haven’t read the book, so it’s unclear if it’s an omitted aspect, if it’s also missing from the book. Either way, Angie Thomas’ stories always provide a window into the black girl experience. Working with Howard is a good collaboration because after seeing Prematureshe knows how to talk to the young black population.

On the way up has an old-school quality when it comes to shooting style and aesthetics. John Singleton and the Hughes brothers clearly influenced Lathan’s direction. She balances that with a vulnerable and heartfelt performance. It’s some of his best work. Randolph should be on Hollywood’s A list and it’s a shame she isn’t right now.

Young women must protect themselves from those who only see their talents as a profit and force them to play a role that is not true to who they really are. Whereas On the way up is flawed, he has such a strong voice that the message here cannot be denied.