“We Grown Now”: Beautiful and Poignant

I always look for films that will give me a different or better perspective on other’s, to open my world a bit and allow me to experience through film what others might encounter. This film really unveils the housing of Chicago, how the war on drugs impacted the families living in that housing, especially the friendship of two young boys. The film has wonderful acting, reveals ugly truths, and the friendship between the two boys is beautiful and poignant. 

“We Grown Now” is a drama, written and directed by Minhal Baig and produced by Joe Pirro and Baig. The film focuses on two young boys, Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez), who come of age in the Cabrini-Green housing complex in the 1990’s. The movie shows the bond between the two but also the differences in their two families, Malik living with his mother, Dolores (Jurnee Smollett), his sister, and his grandmother, Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson) while Eric lives with his father, Jason (Lil Rel Howery) and his older sister Amber (Avery Holliday). It delves into the war on drugs and how that impacts both boys and their families as each struggles to process the changes in their neighborhood and the violence surrounding them. 

One of the ways that this film is so brilliant is that it focuses on Malik and Eric giving the viewer the two boys to empathize with as we see their world through their eyes. At the opening of the film, the two boys haul an old mattress to the playground to use for jumping as there are limited resources for the children in the neighborhood. Still, neither boy minds as long as they can be outside. As the film progresses, we see how a shooting impacts the two as well as causing restrictions in the area that harm more than help the residents and families of Cabrini-Green. We see how both boys interact with their parents, both of whom work long hours to provide for their families and we also see how Eric and Malik struggle with the restrictions that are placed on them and the other families.  The distinctions between the families are well depicted and you soon see that Dolores dreams of more for her family, especially after the changes in the housing complex.

The filmography is beautifully shot to show the city, the different experiences of the two boys but also to show what imaginative dreams and ideas flow through their minds. Both boys discuss death and faith. Malik, when times are difficult, dreams of trains and different places while Eric dreams about his mother coming home, even though he knows she is dead. Both boys dream of a better life. The filmography does an excellent job of portraying how harsh the restrictions on the community really are and the narrative expresses the pain of community violence as well, demonstrating not only a shooting but also how the police harass the community and restrict them, requiring ID for everyone in the building, including the children. 

For two young actors, both Blake Cameron James as Malik and Gian Knight Ramirez as Eric are captivating, easily holding the focus of the film. Both are bold and yet, are haunted by fears and anger. Eric doesn’t like that Malik wants something better and Gian Knight Ramirez does a beautiful job performing that anger and sorrow. Blake Cameron James as Malik also performs brilliantly, highlighting the character’s fear and worry about the changes around him. Jurnee Smollett as Dolores is complex and poignant as she struggles to help her family survive. Lil Rel Howery is dynamic as Jason, hard on his son but also caring. The families are beautiful to watch, especially S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita. She is graceful and a joy to watch perform. 

I didn’t see many flaws but the story is a fairly common one with not many surprises. It is slower paced to allow viewers the time to get to know the two young boys. But the slower pace does not detract from the overall story. I loved the authenticity and the way the various realities of the ‘War on Drugs’ are portrayed, showing that much of the ‘war’ harmed the families of Cabrini-Green and neighborhoods like them rather than helping. It allowed the police to target families of color and persecute them even more when most families were innocent and just struggling to survive. I love the insight into other lives and experiences this afforded me.

If you like films about friendship and troubled times, this drama is for you. The portrayal of the boys and their friendship is beautiful and poignant. It is a coming of age story set in a difficult world made more so by white interference from police and lawmakers. If you like learning about other places or learning more about this time period, I highly recommend this film. The acting is emotional, the writing is powerful, and the story heartbreaking at times but lovely. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 jumps. 


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