Selah and the Spades (2020)
Directed by Tayarisha Poe
If the Heathers, the Mean Girls, and the students from “Dear White People” all hooked up in the AV room during study hall, their baby would look something like the new Amazon Prime original movie “Selah and the Spades.” First-time writer/director Tayarisha Poe always did love an anti-hero, but she bemoaned the fact that white men were the only ones who could get a free pass from audiences. Instead of complaining, she wrote her own anti-heroine—black high school senior Selah Summers (played by Lovie Simone, of the Oprah Winfrey Network show “Greenleaf”), leader of the Spades—one of five factions at a private boarding school composed primarily of students of color. Selah needs to find a successor to run the Spades next year, but she’s being picky. When she and her friend Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) find an underclassman (Celeste O’Connor) with all the right qualities, they decide to give her a proper vetting process.
Selah is less morally gray than I think Poe intended her to be. To me, she’s doing bad things for bad reasons. There’s nothing just about her cause. Unless, maybe, you think all’s fair in love, war, and high school. Anyway, I couldn’t get behind her. But Lovie Simone takes her role seriously and sells it well. Honestly, this whole cast of relative newcomers gives it their all. But I don’t love what they have to work with.
“Selah and the Spades,” like “Dear White People” (it’s hard not to compare the two fourth-wall-breaking, staunchly progressive dramas about prestigious and diverse private schools), rarely leaves campus. Oh, and there’s another similarity. Like “Dear White People,” Amazon intends for “Selah and the Spades” to become a streaming series next. After the movie failed to hook me, I’m not interested. “Selah and the Spades” is too small, too low-stakes and low-key. I give credit to everyone involved, but I wasn’t blown away.