Monday, February 15, 2016

Acting Black Blogathon: Revisiting Set It Off (1996)


Hello, Bloggers! As part of Black History Month, I've decided to take part in a blogathon called the Acting Black Blogathon by Wendell of Dell On Movies where bloggers celebrate the talent of black performers. For this post, I will revisit a rather underrated film from 1996, Set It Off starring Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah.

One thing that I really appreciate about Set It Off is how it is a rare film that features a predominantly black female cast and has them play characters that...survey says, feel like actual characters. 

The four main characters in the film decide to rob a bank, eventually getting in way over their heads. But they have different personalities and motivations for doing so.

At the center, you have Stoney played by Jada Pinkett Smith. At first, Stoney is skeptical about taking part in the bank robbery. But after the death of her brother, she goes through with it because she feels she has nothing to lose.

Next is Cleo played by Queen Latifah. Cleo serves as the comic relief who comes up with the bank robbery plan, mainly looking for a way out of her rough neighborhood. But even as she slowly lets the money they steal go to their head, she still cares about sticking by her friends.

Then, you have Frankie played by Vivica A. Fox. After getting fired from her job due to her familiarity with a robber at her bank, she immediately decides to take part in the robbery to get back at "the system" that's been messing with them. 

Lastly is T.T. played by Kimberly Elise. Like Stoney, she is immediately skeptical about taking part in the robbery. But after her child is taken away from the government, she takes action and tries to afford to get her child back, sacrificing her morality to do so. 

All four are fully fleshed out three-dimensional characters that had me glued to the screen thajnks to the actresses portraying them. One that I would love to acknowledge is Queen Latifah as Cleo. Just out of curiosity,....where the heck was her Oscar campaign for Best Supporting Actress?!

Queen Latifah just owns every scene she is in. She not only provides the humor of the film, but also the heart. While her Cleo is someone who is a little rough around the edges and takes no prisoners, she is mainly protective of her fellow friends and not only doesn't want them to get caught, but to stay loyal to one another. While Queen Latifah did manage an Oscar nomination for Chicago and does fine work there, it is her Cleo Simms that will stay with me for years down the line.

As Viola Davis said in her now iconic Emmys speech, "You cannot win awards for roles that simply aren't there." Well, to me, the roles are there. People just not only have to look hard enough, but make more roles like them. Less films that resort to having talent of color playing stereotypes and more films that have them playing more legitimate, three-dimensional characters. If screenwriters want some inspiration when writing great roles for not just women, but women of color, look no further than Set It Off.