ON THE COME UP -- A Realistic Portrayal of Inner City Life From the Point of a 16-Year-Old Aspiring Rapper
Review by Dan Skip Allen
On the Come Up is the second film that adapts one of Angie Thomas's young adult novels, the other being The Hate You Give, starring Amandla Stenberg, at the time, an up-and-coming actress. This film also stars a new young actress Jamilia Gray as Bri or "Lil Law," a young 16-year-old girl involved in rap battles. She dreams of becoming a rapper and getting her family and herself out of Garden Heights, also the fictional urban setting for The Hate U Give.
Gray's character of Bri, or as she's also affectionately known sometimes as "The Garden Princess," is an aspiring rapper like her father "Lawless." She goes to weekly rap battles to try and make money and a name for herself. When she battles a popular boy Mylez and wins, she gets noticed by his father, "Supreme" (Method Man). Her mother (Sanaa Lathan, also the director) and her handler Boo (Divine Joy Randolph) don't think this is a good idea. But she does it anyway and goes with him to the ATL along with her high school friends Sonny (Miles Gutierrez), Malick (Michael Cooper Jr.), and Mylez.
This film is similar to The Hate U Give in the sense that it deals with a subject matter that is a hot-button topic in society. People target young African Americans and Latinos because of their skin color and the type of music they listen to or perform. The main character's involvement in rap music literally puts a target on her, her family, and her manager. This is the only way she knows how to make a better life for herself and her family. However, it causes unforeseen issues involving her school and the community at large.
The rap community has created some very powerful female artists like Nikki Manage, Cardi B, and Mary J Blige. These women represent a subsection of America that isn't heard from and is persecuted. Gray's character was trying to make a few bucks for her struggling family, which caused her to be targeted by the security at her school. Her life is what she uses to create her art, and also narrate this story, which is an interesting addition to the film. Hearing her words come out of her head as rhymes is a pretty cool way to show how she thinks.
I'm the last person that should be writing about rap music and how it has a message for a community who are underrepresented. It is a way to tell their stories, but it also has consequences for those who don't choose to use this kind of music to tell their stories. They are the ones that get caught in the crosshairs by the gangs that use this music as their anthem. There is just too much collateral damage when you write these violent lyrics. There has to be another way to get their message out to the public where people aren't getting killed by police or by rival gangs.
The characters in the film are indicative of the world the film tries to create. They aren't over the top or exaggerated in any way or shape. They represent this fictional community to a tee, from the high school kids to the people involved in the rap battles to all the gang-related people. There isn't one story in this film that is intellectually wrong in my eyes. The filmmakers and writers get this story right from point A to Z. Teens and adults alike from this community the film depicts will resonate with this material. That is the ultimate win for this film, its cast, director, writers, and those that get to see it.
On the Come Up hits theaters and Paramount+ on September 23.