Selah and the Spades Parent Guide
You need to be careful getting close to the queen bee.
Parent Movie Review
Haldwell School is a tony East Coast boarding school, run by five factions. Selah (Lovie Simone) matter-of-factly declares that they are “pragmatic about the need to indulge students’ vices and realistic in facilitating them.” This is an understatement. The school’s factions – or gangs, as they could more accurately be described – are making a ton of money selling academic services, running gambling rings, hosting after hours parties, and selling drugs. Selah’s clique, the Spades, traffics in what she describes as “booze, pills, powders, fun”.
Given this storyline, it’s not surprising that the movie is rife with problematic content. Selah has a trunk filled with drugs and booze which lights up like Aladdin’s cave of wonders. Her underlings sell her wares across campus and her enforcers beat anyone who doesn’t pay on time or is seen as a potential “rat”. There are frequent scenes of teens using drugs, ranging from marijuana to psychedelics and cocaine, and mixing drugs and alcohol. These scenes alone make the R-rating completely appropriate and preclude Selah and the Spades from teenage viewing. Compared to the egregious underage substance use in the movie, the violence is relatively restrained, with beatings happening off screen. But just because we don’t see the attacks on screen doesn’t minimize their importance – a sense of menace runs throughout the entire story.
The movie’s plot revolves around Selah’s desire to cement her legacy at Haldwell by finding a worthy successor to lead the Spades. For reasons that are never articulated, she lights on Paloma (Celeste O’Connor), a quiet day student who takes photos for the school newspaper. Paloma’s reasons for going whole hog into the drug business are equally unexplained, leaving me wondering why a scholarship student would jeopardize her education for a dangerous illegal conspiracy. Is befriending the school’s queen bee really worth the risk, both legally and morally?
Selah and the Spades never addresses the legal jeopardy the Spades face, but it does look, not always successfully, at the moral and emotional damage Selah and her friends sustain. Director Tayarisha Poe attempts to paint the story with shades of Breaking Bad and Lord of the Flies, but the writing is too stilted and the ending too inconclusive for this film to achieve any kind of depth. The most interesting part of the story is Selah herself - her perfectionism, her emotional remoteness, her rage, her desperate need for control – all portrayed with fierce intensity in Lovie Smith’s scalding performance. We even see a touch of Lady Macbeth as Selah urges Paloma to be her enforcer and beat a tied-up teen who has imperiled their operation. After Paloma loses her internal moral battle and carries out the beating, Selah comes running to tend her bloody knuckles. She reassures Paloma that she’s okay and not to worry, “you’ll grow callouses”. It’s a fine metaphor for the moral and relational damage the girls incur as their illicit business destroys the bonds of trust between erstwhile friends.
As for audiences, this film is unlikely to affect any of us deeply enough for callouses to be necessary. Its casual attitude towards adolescent drug use bleeds into the detached emotional tone of the rest of the film, preventing it from achieving any kind of deeper resonance. Despite the movie’s attempts to paint a tragic picture, the feeling it’s most likely to engender is apathy.Directed by Tayarisha Poe. Starring Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O'Connor. Running time: 97 minutes. Theatrical release April 17, 2020. Updated August 31, 2020
Watch the trailer for Selah and the Spades
Selah and the Spades
Rating & Content Info
Why is Selah and the Spades rated R? Selah and the Spades is rated R by the MPAA for teen drug content and language
Violence: A teen is menaced for owing money; he is later seen with cuts on his face. A major character is sent into a rough part of town; he is later seen with a bruised and bloody face. Someone talks about a person eating a cockroach. A teen is shown gagged and tied to a chair. He is threatened and later a character is shown with bloody knuckles. A girl accidentally cuts her finger with a kitchen knife; some blood is visible. A character deliberately gives someone drugs without her consent. A distraught teen takes scissors and starts cutting up a sweatshirt. A main character pushes and shoves another.
Sexual Content: There is no sexual activity. Characters discuss why they haven’t had sex but there is no explicit detail.
Profanity: There are over two dozen uses of profanity, including at least ten sexual expletives, five scatological curses ad terms of deity and a smattering of other anatomical terms, crude expressions and minor profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Teens sell drugs. There is frequent use of all kinds of drugs ranging from marijuana to psychedelics to cocaine. Teens consume alcohol and mix drugs and alcohol. There is mention of an overdose leading to a car accident. A teen consumes too much of a drug and vomits. A trunk full of drugs and alcohol is frequently opened.
Page last updated August 31, 2020
Selah and the Spades Parents' Guide
Why do you think Paloma accepts Selah’s offer of friendship? Why does she get involved with the drug dealing? What kind of legal jeopardy are these teens in? Why do you think this isn’t mentioned in the movie?
The most recent home video release of Selah and the Spades movie is April 17, 2020. Here are some details…
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For a more honest and painful look at the toll of drugs, watch Beautiful Boy. This tells the true story of Nic Sheff’s heroin addiction and eventual recovery.