The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Monday, March 25, 2013

Light It Up (1999)

"Light It Up" (1999) is a drama thriller written and directed by Craig Bolotin and stars Usher Raymond, Glynn Turnman, Forest Whitaker, Judd Nelson, Rosario Dawson, and Vanessa Williams. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and his wife, Tracy Edmonds, produced the movie, and Tracy was the soundtrack's executive producer with Michael McQuarn. The soundtrack was a success, peaking at #19 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and featured one charting single by Ja Rule called "How Many Wanna."

By 1999, high school-themed inner-city films were abundant. In addition, Hollywood produced more films to complement the commercialization of hip-hop/R&B towards the youth. Usher was very popular as an R&B singer in 1999, and "Light It Up" was his first featured film as lead actor. Other young cast members were familiar actors from film and T.V., such as Fredro Star, Sara Gilbert, Clifton Collins Jr., and Robert Ri'chard. So, the film had all the necessary elements to be successful. However, 1999 was also the year of the Columbine High School shooting.

In "Light It Up," a scuffle between a high school student and a security officer results in the officer getting shot in the leg. As a result, a standoff between the police officers and students transpires. The premises of the film and Columbine have nothing to do with each other, and Bolotin completed filming before the incident. Still, there were some marketing challenges, as the film earned nearly $6 million on a $13 million budget. A similar thing happened with the movie "Trespass" in 1992 because the racial tension from the L.A. riots hurt the film's marketing value.

Overall, the movie received the most criticism from the writing direction. The acting in the film from the young stars is commendable, and they all maximize their opportunities to excel on screen. It's an intense movie with many layers, as each primary student has a narrative.

Director: Craig Bolotin
Writer: Craig Bolotin

Starring Usher, Forest Whitaker, Rosario Dawson, Robert Ri'chard, Judd Nelson, Fredro Starr, Sara Gilbert, Clifton Collins Jr., Glynn Turman, Vic Polizos, Vanessa Williams, Gaddiel Otero, Frank Dominelli

High school students attend an inner-city NYC school that is in poor condition. After beloved teacher Ken Knowles (Judd Nelson) gets suspended by Principal Allan Armstrong (Glynn Turman), students (Usher, Rosario Dawson, Robert Ri'chard, Clifton Collins Jr.) take a stand, leading to their suspension. Things escalate when an altercation between the security officer Dante Jackson (Forest Whitaker) and a student leads to Jackson getting shot. As tensions mount, the students hold Jackson hostage, and a standoff between them and the police begins, and the nation is watching.