Written and directed by Tayarisha Poe, Selah and the Spades takes us on an adventure through teenage angst, self-accountability, jealousy, and high-level pubescent drama. Friendships, loyalty, and dedication are put to the test as actual schooling is put on the backburner for extracurriculars.
At one of the top boarding schools in Pennsylvania, The Hardwell School, the social groups are separated into various factions. Selah (Lovie Simone) leads a group called the Spades, who are responsible for providing the student body with drugs and alcohol. They come up with rules as they go along but their number one rule above all is, “Don’t be a rat.” With her best friend Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) by her side, Selah feels the pressures of ‘next steps’ as she enters the spring semester of her senior year without knowing where she’s going to college, what she’s going to study, and most importantly, who will continue her legacy?
As if navigating life at 17 wasn’t hard enough with academics, Selah leads the Spirit Squad, the Spades, and a social life coated with popularity, envy, and high expectations. She seems to have everything in order at Hardwell until the presence of a new student becomes a variable in her equation for school-wide dominance. That new student, Paloma Davis (Celeste O’Connor), is a recent transfer that spends her time listening to music and taking pictures of everything in her path. She catches Selah’s eye once her best friend Maxi gets his attention taken away by his new girlfriend. Sensing the purity in her voice and naivete on her face, the Spades-leader begins grooming the ‘new kid’ to her liking.
The Spades’ fearless leader plays quite the balancing act in the film. On one hand, she runs a clique, sits at the height of popularity, and is the mastermind behind a well-oiled underground drug machine. On the other, there’s an unsettling reality that exists outside of school that she tries to avoid at all costs: Life. An aspect that she constantly tries to escape, riddled with unpredictability, vulnerability, and the inability to stand up to her controlling and overly strict mother.
The film gives a fun and interesting take on teen life as we now know it. Although it takes place at a boarding school, drama, drugs, alcohol, and relationship problems are nothing new to the teenage experience. It’s not often we get to see that on film from a black girl’s perspective either. Selah’s incessant need to exude perfection is in constant clash with the reality that she’s not. It’s a constant tug-of-war between being the queen of campus and cowering to her mother’s every want.
I give Selah and the Spades a 7.5 out of 10. It’s interesting to watch the powershift that takes place as the film progresses. Selah acts as if she needs an understudy to carry on her legacy but when it seems like a suitor is found, can she deal with losing her place? Her title? Her power? It’s no different from adults whose entire lives and identity rest in their social status or job title.
Selah and the Spades will be available to stream on Friday, April 17, on Amazon Prime Video.