We Grown Now

Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez star in a scene from the movie "We Grown Now." (OSV News photo/Danielle Scruggs, Sony Classics)

NEW YORK (OSV News) – Behind “We Grown Now” (Sony Pictures Classics), a drama influenced by real-life events, looms the 1992 murder of 7-year-old Dantrell Davis in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing project. The crime had far-reaching consequences.

Not only did the boy’s slaying shatter local residents’ sense of security, it also led to a lengthy police crackdown. This included requiring ID cards, even for children, and random drug raids that treated Cabrini-Green’s occupants as undeserving of human dignity.

On the foundation of this horrific event, writer-director Minhal Baig has built the adventures, real and imaginary, of two 10-year-olds, Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez). Both of the best friends are from families saddled with low-wage jobs and struggling with a sense of despair.

Left to their own devices, they try to envision stars on the ceiling of a squalid abandoned room, and skip out of class to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. There, they take in the message of Walter Ellison’s 1935 painting “Train Station.”

The work shows white travelers embarking south for sunny vacations while Black passengers board a train headed north as part of what became known as the Great Migration, a movement inspired by the hope of escaping segregation and finding better employment. Both lads can relate to the painting since it was through this event that their forebears came to Chicago.

Malik and Eric aren’t afraid of their environment. As far as they’re concerned, they’re thriving in it. They are hopeful, a little bored with school, and prefer to spend their time honing their skills at outdoor mattress jumping.

Religion doesn’t offer them solace, or at least, they don’t absorb its messages. At Dantrell’s funeral, they hear the minister, Rev. Jacobs (Charles Jenkins), preach about Jesus being raised “in the projects of East Nazareth” by a mother who loved him.

This inspires a meandering discussion of whether Jesus will return as promised. At the end of it, the pals decide they don’t have enough information to settle the question.

Under the constant pressure of police harassment, Malik’s mother, Dolores (Jurnee Smollett), finds a way out — a payroll supervisor’s position with a higher salary. But taking it means moving to Peoria, Illinois, and buying a car. She has to weigh the effects of relocating her family from the only neighborhood they have ever known.

Baig’s flair for spotting nuance, capturing emotional reality and depicting family courage, even with two appealingly precocious heroes who sometimes come across as idealized, gives her script a quiet power. Both the movie’s images and dialogue will linger with viewers, including the older teens for whom it’s possibly acceptable based on the insights it provides.

The film contains mature themes, including race relations, and fleeting profanity. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


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