Selah and the Spades, a new Indie film written and directed by Tayarisha Poe, takes a dark look at what goes on behind the ivy towers of an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania. Selah (ferociously played by Lovie Simone) is the undisputed Queen Bee of Haldwell school. No one—male or female-seems capable of toppling her from the throne of power.
The student body is ruled by five factions, with 17-year-old Selah (Lovie Simone) running the ruling faction. Her Spades are in charge of distributing alcohol and drugs to the students. Those substances are always popular but almost essential for illegal, after-school, underground parties. Halwell’s other factions are in charge of such areas as gambling and party planning. One faction even tries to keep the befuddled head master (Jesse Williams) clueless by telling him what they want him to know.
Selah Searches for Successor
Selah’s sergeant at arms is her best friend Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome from “Moonlight”), but he has become neglectful after falling in love with another student. Preparing to graduate, Selah searches for a protégé to take over the empire she’s built. She discovers Paloma (Celeste O’Connor), a naïve sophomore who’s a newcomer to the school. Unlike Selah, Paloma is a day student with a somewhat mysterious background. Paloma prefers to hide behind the camera she always has with her, taking photographs for the school paper.
In Maxxie’s increasing absence, Selah starts training her newest disciple to take over the Spades when she leaves. Paloma proves to be an amazingly quick study, and gradually eases Maxxie out of the picture. But problems erupt between the factions, who come together for war councils to help resolve disputes (reminiscent of “The Godfather”). When the leader of The Bobbies (Ana Mulvoy Ten) confronts Selah about a bad drug deal, she realizes someone in her organization may have betrayed her.
Lovie Simone Mesmerizing
Simone is mesmerizing as Selah, whose chilly demeanor only cracks when she’s talking with her domineering mom (Gina Torres). Their scene together gives a glimpse of the insecure teenager hiding beneath Selah’s deliberately icy exterior. When Selah becomes increasingly paranoid about losing control of her faction, her actions become alarming.
While some of these actors are relative unknowns, it’s obvious from their screen presence in Selah and the Spades we’ll be seeing a lot more of them! We can also expect to see Poe return after this impressive debut film.
The Amazon Studio drama is rated R for teen drug content and language, runs 89 minutes, and is available on disc and streaming April 17.