Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to writer/director Tayarisha Poe’s feature film debut “Selah and the Spades,” which made its world premiere as a NEXT selection this past January at the Sundance Film Festival. Additionally, the streaming giant is developing an original series based on the teen drama, which Poe will write, direct, and produce, along with Lauren McBride, who also produced the film.
Set in the closed world of an elite Pennsylvania boarding school, the Haldwell, where the student body is run by five factions, the film stars a young cast of fresh new faces, including Lovie Simone as the titular Selah Summers. She’s joined by Celeste O’Connor, Jesse Williams, Gina Torres, Henry Hunter Hall, Evan Roe, and Jharrel Jerome, who is likely still basking in the afterglow of his first Emmy nomination for Netflix’s “When They See Us.”
Of Haldwell’s five factions — The Spades, The Sea, The Skins, The Bobbies, and The Prefects — Selah runs the most dominant, The Spades, who cater to the most classic of vices and supply students with coveted, illegal alcohol and pills. As the school year comes to an end, Selah must contend with the reality that she will lose control of The Spades, with sophomore upstart Paloma making waves. As the student begins to outshine her, Selah becomes determined to reassert her power, no matter the cost.
For writer-director Poe, a 2016 Sundance Institute Knight Foundation Fellow, the drama is ultimately about young people who are away from their families and attempting to govern themselves, while creating their own version of a regulated environment. It’s also about shedding light on the relatively unseen. “I am always eager to see stories about the marginalia of black life, and more generally about the minutiae of being a human being,” the filmmaker said in a Sundance interview with IndieWire.
“In film, in most Western storytelling, there is this false, persistent assumption that the relatable ‘every man’ story can only be successful — and therefore must only be told — with white characters at the center of them. And that’s just not my jam,” she said. Writing the film for those who rarely see their own lives reflected on the screen, Poe said that she also hopes to “spark empathy for the unempathetic moments in life.”
Matt Newman, Co-Head of Movies at Amazon Studios said of the acquisition, “’Selah and the Spades’ is a fun and addictive story that immediately draws you in. I’m so excited to bring filmmaker Tayarisha Poe into the Amazon Studios family — she has such a unique and beautiful style of storytelling that young audiences everywhere will fall in love with, just as we have.”
The film will be released on Amazon Prime Video, with a premiere date forthcoming.
Produced by Lauren McBride, Secret Engine’s Lucas Joaquin and Drew Houpt, and Argent Pictures’ Jill Ahrens, “Selah and the Spades” is executive produced by Argent partners Ryan Ahrens, Ben Renzo, Drew Brees, Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Derrick Brooks, Terence Nance, Jenifer Westphal, Cinereach, Julie Parker Benello, Nancy Stephens Rosenthal, Chaz Ebert, and Alex Scharfman.
Stephanie DeVaan, David Chan, Kenneth and Elizabeth Whitney, and Gottfried and Janet Tittiger are serving as co-executive producers.