Last year’s powerful police brutality drama The Hate U Give may have received all the acclaim, but Rod S. Scott holds his own with the micro-budget, gritty, urban crime epic Nineteen Summers. It may not have the polish of George Tillman Jr.’s feature – after all, Scott hasn’t directed a film since his 1997 debut Hoover Park – but it deals with similarly relevant issues: racial inequality, white privilege, and corrupt authority. Don’t let this little gem slide under the radar.
DeAndre (Emonjay Brown) lives and hustles on the streets of South L.A., trying to get by. He sports a face tattoo. He deals drugs with his crew, Cartoon (Seth Wright) and Willie (Norman Johnson Jr.). He has a knack for spitting rhymes, as well as getting busted by the cops. He also has a girlfriend, Diamond (Terri Abney), and a baby to support. His mother Porsha (Elise Neal) disapproves of his actions, urging him to get a real job. In a bit of foreshadowing, DeAndre hands Diamond two years’ worth of rent (“Don’t be scaring me like that,” she says).
“He has a knack for spitting rhymes, as well as getting busted by the cops…”
We follow DeAndre, as he escapes from the police, gets a temporary job moving furniture, cheats on Diamond, and meets Slater (Clayton James) – a rich white guy who promises big bucks. Tragedy strikes, leading to DeAndre’s incarceration and brutal revenge. The finale, a grim tribute to the sun-scorched streets of L.A., resonates.
While the plot may be familiar to anyone who’s seen Menace II Society or Baby Boy – the former feature also dealing with a “young hustler attempting to escape the rigors and temptations of the ghetto,” the latter a similar study of arrested development – Rod S. Scott admirably avoids clichés. His admittedly flawed film intermittently reaches levels of superior craftsmanship, not to mention relevance.