Roxanne, Roxanne: A Story About Nothing I Didn't Already Know About A Black Girl Growing Up In The Projects
"Roxanne, Roxanne, can't you understand?
Roxanne, Roxanne, I wanna be your man"
A story about the most feared battle emcee in the early 1980s in Queens, New York, was a fierce teenager from the Queensbridge projects. At the age of 14, Roxanne Shanté 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 street...supposedly.
Growing up I never really heard the stories of Black women in Hip-Hop. My first true introduction to Hip-Hop didn’t happen until the summer of ’95, when we arrived in Baltimore from California. In fact, I didn’t know that there were women who rapped until one night when I was watching the Box and Da Brat’s “Funkafied” came on. To be completely honest and transparent I wasn’t sure what was going on because she looked like a boy but I could clearly see that she was a “she”. At 10 years old, it was a bit much to handle but I knew that whatever was going on I liked it. But outside of seeing them pop up over the years, it was very seldom that you got to hear their story. Usually, when it came time to tell they were overshadowed by the male rapper towering over her because for most women who rapped they were nothing more than the “Homie” side kick or the overly sexualized “ho” that kicks it with everybody. No one had a story to tell of their own. Their stories were all made up and told by men.
Not much has changed over the years. It’s only been recently that we are learning more about the great women in Hip-Hop who paved the way for not only other women looking to grab a mic but also a lot of men who would not be who they were if it had not been for women like Roxanne Shante. Most people don’t know about Roxanne Shante. Correction, most people who were born after I’d say 95. For those whose greatest memory of a woman ripping the mic is Nicki Minaj (no shade, truly) the legend behind the woman who served as an inspiration and challenge for some of today’s greats like Nas is not of great importance. She was hot back then, now she’s not. That’s how it goes. But for my generation, the stories of these women are important.
When I learned the Netflix was creating an independent film telling the story of Roxanne Shante I flipped, literally. I was so eager to finally get a story about a woman who helped shape and mold the hip-hip game. I was looking forward to seeing the recreation of her dopest battles and her struggles with holding her own in the industry. I was looking forward to some inspirational masterpiece that told the story about how a determined young Black girl from Queensbridge with tremendous talent used nothing more than her words to make her one of the more respected, and feared, rappers on the scene. Unfortunately, that’s not what I watched.
As amazing as this woman’s story is, and should have been, the story spends very little time highlighting her accomplishments nor does it tell the story of how she made her mark. It tells nothing about her success after being signed, it tells nothing of her relationships with other artists it doesn’t even discuss her struggle of being a single mother and a hip-hop artist. None of that is highlighted in the film. That isn’t the story that we got.
We were bambozzled.
For me, this entire film was an insult. It was an insult to Roxanne who was more than what they portrayed her to be. Of all the stories chosen to tell, they settled to tell the most traumatizing moments of Roxanne’s life. They chose to subject all of the Black women watching to triggering amounts of abuse, rape and mistreatment. Black woman watching never stood a chance. From the beginning credits when they panned the scream onto her mother, who not even 5 minutes into the film was already yelling and talking to Roxanne like she was trash, until the very last scene of the movie it was a knee-jerk reaction moment. I don’t think I got one clear fresh breathe of air one time through-out the whole movie. I finished the movie knowing nothing more about Roxanne than she was abused, almost raped, mistreated by her mother and almost killed by her son’s father. That’s it.
I didn’t need to see this. This isn’t the story that I needed to be told. If I wanted to see a story about a woman being abused, raped or almost killed I can turn on any news station or spend 10 minutes scrolling my Facebook newsfeed. I didn’t need a movie to tell me about the trauma Black girls in the hood endure. I know this already. I didn’t need a movie about a woman trusting her close male friend only to be assaulted and almost raped by him because he thinks that “her” body is for him.
She was so much more.
Roxanne was so much more than a victim. She was more than a poor helpless little girl who was lost and needed to be saved. She had the determination and will power to push forward despite her many obstacles. She created a lane. She created a movement. She was the voice of an entire community and the only thing she gets acknowledgment for was being someone’s punching bag?
It saddens me that I am not even shocked. Black women never have and never will get the respect and humanity that we deserve. We will never get praise for accomplishments alone, without being defined by the struggle that birthed the accomplishment. Black women are defined by their pain. If there is no pain then we have no story as far as the world is concerned. Specifically, America.
This was a moment for Black women in hip-hop to truly get the shine deserved for the contributions and time put in to service. What was presented was nothing more than another “confirmation” or example to used to justify the biased and misogynistic opinion that Black women are not emotionally equipped to handle themselves in male dominated spaces. This will be used as an example of what happens when a Black woman tries to do what a “man” is suppose to do. She will be blamed for her abuse due to her “wreckless mouth” and her attitude will become the reason why she never reached the top. It will be said that her “daddy issues” and being raised by a man-hating single Black mother who drank herself into an abusive, depressive state leaving Roxanne to raise her sisters were the cause of her failures. Had she had her “father” around none of this would have taken place.
No one will want to have the discussion about how all of the men in her life were gutter trash nor will anyone want to acknowledge just how toxic her mother was, even before the alcohol. No real discussions will come from this film. No real understanding will develop. No empathy will be displayed. This was simply a waste of a good opportunity.
I am so disappointed.
I’m disappointed that Roxanne was okay with this. That in 2018, she was approached with the idea to tell her story, she was given the opportunity to tell her version of events and set the record straight and all she could pull out of her was the pain and trauma she endured. Of all the moments she chose to immortalize she chose her pain. She chose her abuse. She chose her injustice. Perhaps, I am just tired of only seeing Black women on TV and in films when they are being hurt or mistreated. Perhaps, I am still under the spell of “Black Panther”. Maybe, I still mentally stuck in Wakanda because I am tired of the seeing the same stories and narratives as it pertains to Black people and particularly Black women. I am tired of our pain being used for profit.
I just want to see more of us shine for things we’ve been able to do instead of praised for the things that we were forced to deal with.