“I don’t ever want to see you out here, trying to be like me!” Cartoon reprimands a young boy, after the latter throws gang signs. Attempting to escape the shackles of the ghetto is difficult: it’s much easier to sell drugs than to get a shitty, low-paying job and hope for the best. I appreciated the ambiguous nature of some the film’s ruminations, which saves it from preachiness. The white cops are brutally unfair, yet our “heroes” do commit unspeakable crimes driving around with trunk-fulls of drugs. This corrupt system is an ever-revolving vortex, in which DeAndre is hopelessly caught.
“…newcomer Emonjay Brown shines as DeAndre, by turns affectionate, resolute, angry at the system and himself.”
There are certain sequences worth pointing out. A crackhead, Linda (Ché Lyons), seems to die of an overdose, a young man casually resuscitating her with an empty mustard bottle. DeAndre runs from the cops, his escape scored to “Run, “N****r, Run,” a 19th Century African-American slave song. A subplot involves a representative of the law, Leon (Dario Antoine Lee), trying crack for the first time and consequently rapidly spiraling out. A conversation between DeAndre and a white dude convicted of the same crime ends in a poignant CD exchange.
Sure, there may be some sound/color issues. The film’s messages are spelled out in big, bold letters. The tone and pace are, at times inconsistent, making for a somewhat-meandering flow. Nineteen Summers could have easily been 30 minutes shorter to avoid those dips in momentum. However, newcomer Emonjay Brown shines as DeAndre, by turns affectionate, resolute, angry at the system and himself. “Why do you even smoke Newports? You know those things kill more black people than bullets,” he tells his mom on the way home from jail. DeAndre’s chemistry with Diamond is also palpable. It’s a career-making performance that, along with the film, reiterates that it’s Love U should be giving, not Hate.
"…Rod S. Scott holds his own with the micro-budget, gritty, urban crime epic"