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Movie Review

Gena Hollins dated a drug dealer once. Then he started beating her.

These days, Gena has no intention of ever being any man's trophy again—no matter how much money he has, how nice his ride is, how sweet his talk is. Instead, she lives contentedly in a poor section of Philadelphia with her beloved grandmother, Gah-Git, who raised Gena after her mom died of a drug overdose.

Gena's almost done with her bachelor's degree in English, after which she hopes to pursue a writing career. Her life isn't flashy. But Gena knows firsthand flash ain't all that.

Then she meets Quadir Richards while out clubbing with her wild-child bestie, Sahirah. He's a drug dealer. He's rolling in money. His ride is sweet and so's his talk. Flash? Oh yes.

Gena resists Quadir's advances for a good long time. She knows what being a drug dealer's woman means: a life of uncertainty and instability, with the threat of violence constantly hanging over one's head.

But Quadir insists he's a different kind of drug dealer—one who wants out of "the game." One who wants a wife and kids and soccer games. In other words, he's a kinder, gentler hustler; one who's grown weary of the hustle, tired of the bloodshed.

Quadir is trying to get out. He longs for an honest life with Gena—who, despite her many protestations, can't resist his unwavering persistence.

Alas, happily ever after for drug lords—even those who sincerely want to go straight—is a ticklish thing. Especially when another young tough named Jerrell decides the time has come to coronate himself as Philly's new king of the underworld.

Positive Elements

Gena's got a reasonably good head on her shoulders. She repeatedly—and wisely—ignores Quadir, telling him she's not interested. But Quadir's relentless affection assault overwhelms her, and she begins to reciprocate.

Make no mistake: Quadir is a gangsta. A polite, professional, hesitant-to-resort-to-violence kingpin. But a hustler nonetheless. Still, he wants out. He wants to run a legitimate, legal business (he does own a restaurant), and Gena seems to be the catalyst to help him leave his wiseguy ways behind. Elsewhere, Quadir kindly offers to pay his sister's delinquent bills.

Gena's grandmother, Gah-Git (whose moniker is a nickname from bygone years when she would tell people to retrieve things for her: "Gah git me some …") walks the line between telling Gena what she really thinks, and giving Gena space to make her own decisions. When Gena is on the verge of breaking things off with Quadir after someone close to her is killed by Jerrell, Gah-Git tells her that breaking up is the right thing, but that Quadir deserves to hear it from her, face to face.

At film's end, Gena delivers a soliloquy about the inescapable reality of consequences. We all have to reap the fallout of our bad choices, she says. And the more reckless those decisions have been, the more devastating the consequences are likely to be.

[Spoiler Warning] In Quadir's case, it means he's eventually gunned down, leaving Gena to sort through the aftermath alone. She's devastated. But she also honestly admits that Quadir's violent end was a direct consequence of his violent life.

Spiritual Content

True to the Game at times feels vaguely like some of Tyler Perry's more spiritual movies. We learn that Gah-Git was once quite wild herself, but that she eventually "found God." Since then, she's become the staunch leader of her female clan (composed of herself, Gena, younger granddaughter Bria and several of their closest friends). Gah-Git repeatedly tells Gena she needs to go to church with her and Bria. She prays before meals. She doesn't (it's implied) think too highly of promiscuity. She wears a prominent cross.

After a particularly painful loss, Gena slips into despondency. Gah-Git is sympathetic, but eventually feels compelled to prod Gena to move forward. "The Lord works in mysterious ways," Gah-Git tells Gena. "And he told me to tell you to get your s--- together."

Quadir, for his part, is a Muslim, though he admits he hasn't practiced his faith recently. Apparently desperate to win Gena back, Quadir begins praying again. We see and hear him voice prayers in (presumably) Arabic as he kneels on a prayer rug. He also uses prayer beads. Elsewhere, other characters note the discrepancy between Quadir's professed faith and his immoral behavior. And even though he's a Muslim, Quadir nevertheless quotes Philippians 4:6 (though without using that reference), telling someone, "Be anxious for nothing."

At the meal where Quadir meets Gah-Git, she asks him to say grace (unaware that he's Muslim). He declines, saying that Muslims pray in silence before meals. Bria ends up praying, giving thanks to God for "Your gifts of bounty," and asking Him to "sustain us throughout our lives," before ending, "In Jesus's name, amen."

Gena, despite being raised by Gah-Git, is resistant to her grandmother's spiritual prodding. She's also quite accepting of Quadir's faith, with both of them gushing over their appreciation for Muslim activist Malcom X.

Gena ends up with a large sum of money and tries to give some to Gah-Git. The older woman won't take it, saying instead, "God got me. God got you. We gonna be just fine. Just fine."

Sexual Content

A scene in a drug house includes two topless women dancing. The camera spies them repeatedly. They're also twerking and gyrating suggestively in front of two men sitting before them on couches.

Gena and Quadir consummate their relationship in a steamy scene that pictures the pair embracing. She's shown in skimpy lingerie from the side amid various kisses and caresses. Quadir leaves Gena a large stack of hundreds after their first night together. Though he's not paying her as a prostitute, it's hard to avoid the suggestion that women who yield themselves to powerful men will be financially rewarded. Gena and Quadir kiss passionately other times as well.

A scene takes place in a strip club, though no strippers are actually shown. A man and woman have mostly clothed sex (we see explicit movements but without any nudity) in a restroom. A former lover of Quadir repeatedly invites him to have sex with her again. In one scene, she's on a bed wearing very skimpy lingerie—apparently thinking he's on his way for a tryst. (He isn't.) A group of men interact with scantily clad women on the street, likely prostitutes.

Women throughout the film wear extremely revealing outfits, clothing that seemingly barely avoids wardrobe malfunctions. At one point, Gena runs in a very low cut dress and actually has to hold it up to keep from falling out of it. We also see women wearing formfitting outfits and at least one who's clearly not wearing a bra. A female character is shown in a towel. Another is glimpsed (from the shoulders up) in a bathtub. Two young women kiss and caress each other.

Gena's friend Sahirah is unapologetically promiscuous. When a guy she's had sex confronts her after seeing Sahirah kissing another drug dealer, she says she can do whatever she wants with her body as she points to her crotch. She also tells him that she's not really the relationship type, unless the relationship includes financial perks (which it apparently does with the other guy she's sleeping with).

Tyrik grabs a woman's backside.

Gah-Git crudely scolds Gena after she comes home late one night, saying that the only thing open after midnight is a woman's legs. Gena writes an erotic poem for Quadir full of explicit anatomical allusions. A few other extremely crude verbal references to the female anatomy turn up, too.

Violent Content

Jerrell doesn't handle conflict well. Typically, he responds by gunning people down. The most graphic of these scenes, which shows him shooting a man and a woman in a car, is in slow motion: We watch blood slowly spray with each bullet's impact. Another scene later on is similar, with a woman cradling a mortally wounded and very bloodied man in her arms after he's been shot by Jerrell.

A man points a gun in the face of one of Jerrell's female thugs; we don't see what happens next, but we hear the gunshot that ends her life. In yet another shooting, multiple victims get gunned down by one of Jerrell's henchmen. He points his machine gun at Gena too, but he's out of ammunition.

Jerrell kidnaps Gena. She's roughly hauled out of her car. After Quadir coughs up a $2 million ransom, he helps badly shaken Gena out of a trunk, where she's got tape across her mouth.

Crude or Profane Language

About 100 f-words, including 15 pairings with "mother." Nearly 20 s-words. At least 35 uses of the n-word. The word "b--ch," (almost always referencing a woman or women) is used some 30 times. God's name is taken in vain 10 times, including two uses with "d--n." We hear 15 uses of "a--." Other vulgarities and crudities, used two to five times each, include "d--n," "h---," "p---y" and "t-tties." We see one crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The primary drug that Quadir, Jerrell and everyone else peddles is cocaine. We see a woman slice open a brick of the stuff and dump it on a mirror. She then goes on to boil some of it, apparently making crack crystals. Multiple people sniff or taste small amounts of the powdery drug. At least one man smokes a marijuana joint.

Quadir negotiates deals with other drug dealers; they talk about drug supply, transport and pricing. A song on the soundtrack mentions "smoking weed" and using cocaine.

Characters drink various alcoholic beverages throughout the film. Even Gah-Git imbibes a bit, saying she enjoys how a mixed drink makes her feel like she's "at the beach." Quadir (and others) repeatedly puff enormous cigars. We see a few folks smoking cigarettes, too.

Other Negative Elements

Even though he's trying to change his ways, Quadir doesn't always tell Gena the truth. Quadir tries to convince Gena that "what I do" (i.e., selling drugs) is not "who I am."

The criminals here seem to operate with total legal impunity. Police never intervene; and even though Jerrell kills multiple people with witnesses around, he's never arrested, nor does he even seem to be concerned about that possibility.

Conclusion

True to the Game features a handful of redemptive elements: Gena's a good woman who gets seduced by a bad guy who'd like to be good again. Her grandmother is a dignified matriarch of deep faith (though she's not above uttering a crudity or knocking down a drink). And the film—much to its credit—suggests that violent, lawless choices will almost always result in violent, lawless consequences.

But let's get real here: Even if we bend over backward to give this film credit for a cautionary message, by the time it arrives the camera has already lingered on myriad violent, lawless acts—and quite a few sexual ones as well.

So does True to the Game critique gangsta culture? Or exploit and glorify it? Perhaps some of both … though I think this movie is more true to one of those games than the other.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Erica Peeples as Gena Hollins; Columbus Short as Quadir Richards; Andra Fuller as Jerrell; Nelsan Ellis as Tyrik; Malcolm David Kelley as Black; Jamaar Simon as Rasun; Annika Noelle as Aubrey; Stanley R. Atwater as Rich Green; Jennifer Freeman as Lita; Vivica A. Fox as Shoog; Nafessa Williams as Sahirah; Draya Michele as Cherelle; Starletta DuPois as Gah-Git; Lisa Renee Pitts as Viola Richards; Iyana Halley as Bria; Lorenzo Eduardo as Winston; Misan Akuya as Terrance; Paul Saucido as Carlos Sanchez

Director

Preston A. Whitmore II ( )

Distributor

Imani Motion Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 8, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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