The film — directed by Sanaa Lathan — is based on the New York Times’ #1 best-selling novel “On The Come Up” by Angie Thomas, who is also the author of the book turned movie “The Hate U Give.”
“When I got the job to direct and when I was working on the script, I fell in love with the character Jay. She’s somebody I recognized from the women in my family and I felt like her journey of healing would be healing to me and to so many people, so I really fell in love with her and wanted to play her,” Lathan told YR Media.
Throughout the film, Bri, portrayed by new actress Jamila C. Gray, learns the importance of using her childhood trauma to her advantage to make smart decisions rather than taking the route to quick fame. Due to family circumstances, Bri has no choice but to succeed — but she is stuck between a rock and a hard place when her support system isn’t supporting her in the ways she desires.
“The story of Bri just captivated me from the beginning. I saw my younger self in Bri. I used acting as a teen to kind of channel all of my anxiety and it gave me my voice and so Bri just like she does with her poetry and her rhyming, I really connected with that,” said Lathan.
As a Black female teen at a predominately white high school and a low-income neighborhood, the opportunities are limited for Bri but with the support of her best friends Malik (Michael Cooper Jr.) and Sonny (Miles Gutierrez-Riley) and her manager aunt Pooh (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) she keeps striving to reach her goals of being just like her late father, who was once the local celebrity rapper of their neighborhood, Garden Heights.
“Tap into whatever it is that makes you, you. Even if you feel like it's the thing that’s maybe holding you back, and figure out what’s inspired you to become the person you are and start telling that story,” said Cooper.
The film highlights several themes, but the most important takeaway is fighting for your dreams and not giving up even if odds are against you.
“My definition of ‘On The Come Up’ is whatever passion you have or whatever dream you have — taking those first steps, opening that door for the first time into that unknown. To me being on the come up is about entering this new phase of not knowing exactly what’s next, but knowing that you’re on the right path towards achieving whatever goal it is you want,” said Gutierrez-Riley.
The film also features Mike Epps, Method Man, Titus Makin, Lil Yachty and GaTa.