Directed by Jim McKay. USA. 2000.

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"Some day, we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Some day, when the world is much brighter"- The 5 Stairsteps "O-o-h Child" 

Movies about Black teenagers usually involve inner city gangs dealing drugs or committing violence to a hip-hop soundtrack. Films about the everyday problems of ordinary inner city teens are hard to find, yet there is an undiscovered gem that I would like to recommend. Our Song, by Jim McKay is about three girls in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn who learn that their high school will be closed for asbestos removal and must decide on their future direction, one that may involve going their separate ways. The story is told from the point of view of a 15-year old, not from an adult reminiscing about the past as in most coming of age movies. Avoiding the mandatory street slang and excessive use of F-words, it delivers an honest and loving portrait of three friends at a crossroads in their life. The girls: Lanisha (Kerry Washington), Joycelyn (Anna Simpson), and Maria (Melissa Martinez) are in their sophomore year at the local high school. They are active members of the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a real-life marching band whose rehearsals for a Labor Day parade provide discipline and purpose to their lives. 

Similar to David Gordon Green's George Washington but less stylized, the film showcases non-professional black and Latino actors with Kerry Washington as the standout. While the performances have some amateurish moments, I became so involved with the story that I forget the girls were even acting. Maria, whose father is in jail, has learned that she is pregnant by Terrell, a local student. She wants to have the baby in spite of the fact that she is only 15 and knows that Terrell is probably not going to be of much help. Joycelyn works in an up-scale dress shop but dreams about becoming a singer. In a very poignant scene in her bedroom, she pretends to be talking to her fans, then lies down in bed to recite one of her poems. She is close to Lanisha and Maria at the beginning but drifts off to make friends outside of the neighborhood. None of the girls receive much support at home and Maria is too afraid to even tell her mother about her baby. Yet, the single moms are not typical movie deadbeats or alcoholics. They are warm and loving parents whose time with their children is limited because of the pressure of supporting the family. 

Lanisha's parents are divorced but she is able to visit her father, a doorman in a luxury apartment building and talk about music. Her mother is comforting when Lanisha learns that a friend in the neighborhood has committed suicide, a somewhat melodramatic plot point in an otherwise realistic film. As the summer winds down, the girls drift apart and each decides on a different course. There are no big dramatic moments, however, only the sad recognition of the inevitability of change. Though we do not have blinders on about the frustrations that may await them, we identify with their hopes and dreams without dwelling on the negative. Our Song is an emotionally satisfying film about growing up in the projects that refuses to see life in any terms other than possibility.

Howard Schumann
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