Amazon Studios has released the official trailer for writer/director Tayarisha Poe’s feature film debut, “Selah and the Spades,” which made its world premiere as a NEXT selection at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. 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 impressive cast of fresh new faces, including Lovie Simone as the titular Selah Summers. She’s joined by Celeste O’Connor, Jharrel Jerome, Jesse Williams, Gina Torres, and Ana Mulvoy Ten.
Of the Haldwell student body’s five factions — The Spades, The Sea, The Skins, The Bobbies, and The Prefects factions — 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 has to contend with the reality that she will lose control of The Spades, with sophomore upstart Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) making waves. As the student begins to outshine the teacher, Selah becomes determined to reassert her power, no matter the cost.
For writer-director Poe, a 2016 Sundance Institute Knight Foundation Fellow, the “Lord of the Flies”-esque drama is ultimately about young people, away from their families, at a boarding school, attempting to govern themselves, 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 2019 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.”
Writing a film for those who rarely see their own lives reflected on the screen, Poe said that “Selah” was inspired by “no-pulp orange juice, brutalist architecture, codes of silence, rats, ineffectual adults, control, pleats in skirts, color, Rihanna as a way of being, cardigans, friendships that leave you with gut punches, telling the truth, mind games, lying, power vacuums, and spades — the card game, the gang, the Motörhead song, the tool, the suit, the faction.”
A dynamic Simone carries the drama, playing an overachieving prep school queen, in a film that has more style than story, but it’s an extraordinary style, punctuated by a soundtrack that includes jazzy drums and snares, intercut with emo pop and Bing Crosby.
Amazon has set an April 17 release date for “Selah and the Spades” on Prime, and 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. Check out the film’s official trailer below.