Writer-director Tayarisha Poe’s “Selah and the Spades,” currently playing on Amazon Prime—immerses us in the world of Selah (“Sell-uh” ) Summers (Lovie Simone), the shrewd and charming senior head of the Spades and one of five underground factions that absolutely dominate social life at a prestigious boarding school.
It’s an interesting look into the hidden world of teenage characters that don’t fit into typical YA dramas.
Selah rules the Spades, the campus headquarters for alcohol and drug sales, like an experienced street boss. How does she keep her power? Charm, intelligence and tons of manipulation all the while her drive for perfectionism slowly eats away at her. In a word, Selah is complicated.
The film opens with a confusing tone giving the viewer a rundown of the five factions (ok) once you finish the film you will feel ponder, was that introduction necessary. It’s important however to establish that the story takes place inside Haldwell School, a boarding school, which is revealed primarily through the lens of its black and brown students. That’s unique point-of-view, a Black and Brown boarding school, so kudos to Poe. Selah’s world is complicated. It’s not as deep as raising children, keeping your spouse stimulated and paying the mortgage, complicated but the excellent cast gives a convincing performance of Gen Z and their complicated existence. In summary, you will happily go along for the ride because the film (and it’s characters) are well-crafted.
Selah’s protegee is Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) a fresh, faced beauty who favors natural curls. We hear her thoughts along with others, with director Poe choosing an interesting (and fresh) take on voiceover.
Back to the boarding school environment. Real-life secret societies at well- heeled preparatory high schools and colleges are not fresh but Poe reimagines this offering her perspective as a black woman with inside knowledge.
In many ways, Selah is an atypical teenager, complete with a tense relationship with her mother and other adult figures that are part of her world.
Where she’s not a typical young woman is her pursuit of the love of an unattainable young man. That’s just not Selah’s motivation. An interesting casting choice is the very good looking Jesse Williams, who plays Headmaster Banton a man who loves his thick beard and is rather clueless about how young people act.
“Selah and the Spades” should do very well on Amazon Prime. It looks good giving a big thump up for cinematographer Jomo Fray (HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness) and his creative relationship with writer- director Tayarisha Poe. “Selah and the Spades” — written and directed by Tayarisha Poe. Now playing on Amazon Prime. Starring Lovie Simone, Celeste O’Connor, Jharrel Jerome, Gina Torres, Jesse Williams, Ana Mulvoy Ten, Henry Hunter Hall, Evan Roe, Francesca Noel.