NEW YORK (AP) — Nia Long plays Roxanne Shante’s mother in a new docudrama on the rap pioneer’s life, but when the actress and Shante sit down to chat in real life, their bond reveals itself to be almost sisterly.
They giggle about food and weight. Long gives Shante career advice. And before a camera rolls on an interview, Long asks for a pause, to make sure Shante’s makeup is just right for her close-up.
The two didn’t know each other before the movie started, but Netflix’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” has resulted in a friendship that seems years old.
“We have a relationship outside of Hollywood and hip-hop,” says Shante, sitting close with Long for a talk with The Associated Press. “When we talk, we talk about everything … kids, husbands, hormones, chocolate, eating, clothes … red lipstick …”
“I don’t loan my lipstick to anyone, but I’ll loan it to her,” Long says, as they both laugh.
“I feel like she’s been my sister in my head for a long time,” she continues. “And then you know when I met her, I was I was a little star-struck. … I’m not going to lie.”
Most people who grew up in the burgeoning days of rap would understand Long’s fandom. Roxanne Shante — real name Lolita Gooden — is considered the first female rapper to make a serious splash in hip-hop, dishing punishing verses with her 1984 debut, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” a clap-back to the then-smash rap hit “Roxanne Roxanne.” With her scratchy voice, Shante — just 14 at the time — dispelled the notion that rapping was for dudes only, and she went on to pave the way for a generation of other groundbreaking female acts, from MC Lyte to Salt-N-Pepa to Queen Latifah. Even Nas, who grew up in the same Queens, New York, housing projects as Shante, credits her as an inspiration.
“You are a pioneer, you are a trailblazer, you set the standard for women to battle rap and have a seat at the table,” Long tells Shante during the interview.
But Shante didn’t have the kind of hits or longevity of those acts. Instead, as “Roxanne, Roxanne” depicts, she faced plenty of adversity that hindered her growth as an artist.
Long pays the pivotal role of Shante’s mother, Miss Peggy — a struggling single mother of four daughters who had a drinking problem and a fractious relationship with her daughter. Long calls it one of the best roles of her career.
“I got to strip down and just be raw and vulnerable and afraid and misunderstood,” says Long. “All of us have a family member that resembles a Miss Peggy. She is you know she’s a hero, really, at the end of the day. … So for me it was a no-brainer. I love the story.”
Shante said Long’s decision to play Miss Peggy helped put her mother at ease over their raw story coming to the screen.
“That was the selling point for her because she was like, ‘Look, the truth is the truth and the story is the story and it’s going to be told. But you make sure that you tell it right.’… And the moment that she saw her walk out, she was like, ‘I’m fine with this,'” said Shante. “We never discussed anyone else.”
The truth as told through the lens of Shante (played by Chante Adams) includes her struggles in the industry, including getting cheated out of money and having to still live in the projects despite her radio hits. It also depicts an abusive relationship with her first boyfriend, a drug dealer (played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) when she was just 16. She became a teen mom and was once so badly beaten she was hospitalized.
The movie is serving to tell a new generation about her achievement, less heralded than some others in rap. Yet Shante, who spends time these days as a host at old-school hip-hop events, betrays no bitterness when asked if she thinks her contributions are overlooked.
“When I see the young artists of today, I already understand and know my contributions,” she said. “Knowing what my contribution is to this hip-hop thing and being able to sit back and see how great it is now and knowing that if it wasn’t for me doing something like that one day, knowing that I have contributed like that, it’s enough for me.”