The Wrap

‘Selah and the Spades’ Star Lovie Simone Wants You to Know ‘There’s Not One Way to Live Black’ (Video)

Director Tayarisha Poe’s feature film debut, “Selah and the Spades,” creates a world in which black characters aren’t impacted or influenced by the white gaze, and that’s one of the things that drew the cast to the project.

“We don’t get to see it that often,” said actress Lovie Simone, who stars as Selah, at TheWrap’s studio during Sundance. “There’s not one way to be black, there’s not one way to live black. So to see these characters going to this prestigious boarding school with all this money and nice homes, it opens your eyes to a broader perspective of blackness.”

The film premiered in the NEXT category during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“Selah and the Spades” takes play in the closed world of an elite Pennsylvania boarding school, called Haldwell, where the student body is run by five factions. The film follows 17-year-old Selah Summers who runs the most dominant group, the Spades, which caters to the most classic of vices, supplying students with coveted contraband like illegal alcohol and pills.

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Tensions between the factions escalate, and when Selah’s best friend and right hand Maxxi becomes distracted by a new love, Selah takes on a protégée, enamored sophomore Paloma, to whom she imparts her wisdom on ruling the school. But as graduation approaches and as Paloma proves to be an impressively quick study, Selah’s fears turn sinister as she grapples with losing the control by which she defines herself.

“Selah and the Spades” has a predominately black cast, but the beautiful thing about the script, and what drew “Moonlight” actor Jharrel Jerome to the film, was that there is no black and white present in the script, he said.

“I don’t think Tayarisha made it a point these are the black kids; these are the white kids. There was power and it was about who had the power and who didn’t have the power,” Jerome said. “The other beauty about the script is you have all these black faces in an environment that we’re not used to, but we’re not talking about race, not once in the film.”

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The important thing, said Gina Torres — who plays Selah’s mother — is that within the world of “Selah and the Spades,” having a host of black kids at this prestigious boarding school isn’t an anomaly, even if audiences aren’t used to seeing it.

“It’s interesting because it’s probably not a question that we would ask a white cast, but also, what is young black life outside of the white gaze?” Jesse Williams said. “I was one of probably 10 black kids at an all-white school. It mattered, it effected us… one misstep could ruin everything for everybody after you. The weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you just get to be Selah, or any of the characters, then you can just be an individual, you’re allowed to struggle with identity and the pressure from your mom and the incredible loneliness of being popular.”

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