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Cliques and Powerful Politics Abound in ‘Selah And The Spades’ – Review

Academics, high school hierarchies and politics collide in Selah And The Spades. With her directorial debut, writer/director Tayarisha Poe gives the audience a film that will leave you thinking and likely talking about it long after. While there’s a mixture of other high school dramas, Selah And The Spades is wholly new territory and puts a spin on the powerful clique dynamic we haven’t seen before.

Selah Summers (Lovie Simone) is the head of the most powerful clique at her Pennsylvania boarding school. Known as  The Spades, Selah has to find a fine balance between being popular and well-liked, or feared by her classmates. It is one thing to balance one’s school projects, while simultaneously dealing with a never impressed mother (Gina Torres) and a myriad of factions trying to usurp the power of The Spades. In the midst of all her other duties, Selah must also find someone to replace her when she leaves The Spades. She turns to her right-hand man, Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) and the two of them decide to begin training a new transfer student and school photographer, Paloma (Celeste O’Connor). 

Of course, this is all relatively easier said than done. Selah and Maxxie have a secret and efficient operation going on, and it cannot be altered or revealed at all costs. However, when Maxxie becomes distracted by a relationship and causes major grief for The Spades, Selah finds herself having to fix Maxxie’s mess, trying to keep the power of The Spades at the top and continue to train the new recruit. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of messiness that plays well in the film. 

Celeste O’Connor as Paloma, Lovie Simone as Selah and Jharrel Jerome as Maxxie in Selah And The Spades (Photo: © Ashley Bean)

Simone is pitch-perfect as Selah, perfectly embodying the high school senior with ease. There’s an assuredness about Selah that Simone captures very well, but she also doesn’t shy away from any of the vulnerable moments that Selah experiences – specifically during a scene where she’s visiting her mother. Although having limited screen time, Torres makes the most of it and is a daunting presence during the interaction with her daughter. Jerome and O’Connor as Maxxie and Paloma respectively, are also great in their roles and their chemistry with Simone is one of the highlights of the film. 

In terms of the story, Selah And The Spades was not really what I was expecting. While I purposely didn’t watch the trailer for fear of too much of the plot being revealed, I did read a brief synopsis online. While the description did briefly touch on some of what was in the film, the movie was much more than that. It took turns that I was not prepared for and while I didn’t necessarily love some of the choices made by various characters, I did appreciate how it played into the greater story that played out on screen. The power dynamics throughout the film were very well done and it was truly a testament to Poe’s writing craft. Poe’s creativity is evident during the movie’s entirety in the stylistic choices made as a director. Some of my favourite shots were from the school’s Spirit Squad practice, where Selah is once again pulling rank as the squad’s captain. 

With many interesting characters to unpack and drama around every corner, Poe’s directorial debut is definitely worthy of a watch. Selah And The Spades is now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.

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