Jurnee Smollett as Dolores in “We Grown Now.” (Courtesy photo)

Actress Jurnee Smollett stars in the coming-of-age film ‘We Grown Now.’

Set in 1992, “We Grown Now” is a film about two African American boys who are also best friends. They cross the city of Chicago to escape the challenges of growing up in the Cabrini Green Homes, a public housing project located on the near northside neighborhood of Chicago.

A series of surprise raids to sweep gangs and other criminal elements from Cabrini Green resulted in tenants being evicted from their homes or the public housing project getting demolished.

Unfortunately, many law-abiding Black tenants were caught in the middle of the Chicago Police Department operation.

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Smollett says she felt a rollercoaster ride of emotions when she first read the script for the film.

“I honestly was in tears when I finished it. I was just so excited about the notion of a story – a beautiful intimate character driven story from the perspective of two little Black boys and their beautiful little friendship,” said Smollett.

Smollett, who was also an executive producer on the film, continued, “I haven’t seen that enough on screen and I just wanted to be a part of not only the cast, but the producing team to help usher this film forward because I want to see more films like this.”

Although Smollett did not know much about the raids coming into the project, she says she did intense research once she signed-on.

Jurnee Smollett at the virtual press junket for “We Grown Now.” (Courtesy photo)

“Through my research, research our filmmaker Minhal [Braig] shared with me, books I read, and there were some YouTube videos I watched, too, of not just Cabrini Green – this is a common thing that happens throughout our country unfortunately,” said Smollett.

She remembers also seeing some videos that former residents recorded. “Just the utter violation that they were experiencing. I tried to honor [them], and I tried to bring justice, and bring that to screen,” said Smollett.

Smollett believes “We Grown Now” is a film full of empowering, although non-threatening messages from a very turbulent time in history. “It’s a powerful thing, art. Our [the filmmakers] intention is not to preach, but to just show.”

“We Grown Now” is set to release in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago theaters on April 19, then release nationwide on May 10. It stars Jurnee Smollett, Lil Rel Howery, S. Apatha Merkerson, Blake Cameron James, and Gian Knight Ramirez.