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Chante Adams Untitled Session11653
Chante AdamsPhotography Fumi Nagasaka, Styling Alison Marie Isbell

Meet the breakout star of the must-see Roxanne Shante biopic

Chante Adams is only 22, but she’s already won praise for playing the hip hop legend in ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’ and picked up a fan in Pharrell Williams

At the tender age of 22 – and just one year after graduating – Chante Adams is starring in her first feature film, playing hip hop legend Roxanne Shante in the critically applauded Roxanne Roxanne. Performing alongside legends Nia Long and Mahershala Ali, Adams describes the weeks following the film’s Sundance debut in January as “pretty crazy.” But she hasn’t let the overnight hype affect her. “It means so much to me,” she gushes over the phone, “and I’m definitely going to hold it near and dear to me for the rest of my life.”

For Adams, the storytelling itself is as important as the strides she’s quickly made in her fledgling career. Her voice picks up pace, develops a hint of ferocity, when she talks about the importance of being able to tell the stories that, too often, don’t get told. She’s beautifully optimistic about the future of Hollywood and diversity in a way that makes you feel like anything is possible – that true intersectional representation is mere inches away, and all we have to do is reach out and grab it. It’s no wonder Pharrell Williams handpicked her for his G-Star RAW X25 Elwood collaboration, which has seen the hip hop legend curate talent including rap rebel BIA, NYC skate crew The Skate Kitchen, nu-school R&B star Syd, and gangster rap innovator YG. Adams selected one of the artist’s signature prints to represent her own persona. Adams is, after all, hopefully ushering in an era of Hollywood where choice is real – for everyone, not just for the white faces that we’re so used to seeing on the screen.

Adams took some time out from her in-demand schedule to talk about the epic life of Roxanne Shante, the future of Hollywood in a post-Moonlight era, and the limitless sky above her.

What attracted you to the role in Roxanne Roxanne?

Chante Adams: Well the casting director actually found me! I just graduated from school last year and she came to my showcase in New York with my whole class and she saw me there and thought that it would be good for me to come in and audition for it. So she reached out to me and I went in for it. I was attracted to it because it was a story about a young black girl growing up in hip hop – one of the first young black women to really pioneer hip hop, so that was kind of special to me.

How did it feel to be chosen in that way?

Chante Adams: It was an honour. It was my first movie audition coming out of school so I was just happy that she reached out to me. For the first few auditions I never really considered it as something that could actually happen, just because it never really works out that way. I was just happy to go in!

Roxanne Shante was probably a little bit before your teenage years, but did you grow up with hip hop?

Chante Adams: I definitely grew up in hip hop and rap. I’m from Detroit, Michigan and that was the primary music genre of young people, at least through my childhood and teenage years. I was a little young for Roxanne Shante – I wasn’t born until ten years after the period we cover in the movie – but I’m the youngest of four and I have older siblings who were pretty big fans of her.

“I was doing an interview and someone asked me what my hobbies were and I couldn’t answer the question because I’m like, ‘Does my job count?’”  – Chante Adams

You got to work with Roxanne as well.

Chante Adams: I did. She was an executive producer on the film so she was on set a couple of times a week which was always really great for me because I had the primary source right there if I ever had any questions or needed advice.

What was the most important thing you learned from her that you’ll take away with you?

Chante Adams: I think it’s just really what I learned from her story and having to play her and seeing what she is today. She does not look like anything she has been through – and she has been through quite a lot! It really just showed me that you can get through anything, you just have to keep pushing and find something to make you keep pushing. For her it was her younger siblings, her little sisters, then she had her son and she knew that she needed to live a better life for them. So just finding those things that will help you keep pushing and keep striving and won’t let you give up.

What do you think the audience will take away from the movie?

Chante Adams: Something kind of similar to what I’ve taken away from her story and her as a person. I want to make sure people understand that this isn’t just a hip hop biopic. It’s a story of survival, really navigating her childhood. It’s a coming-of-age story. She went through so much at a very young age, and had to take care of her siblings and deal with her alcoholic mother. She had an abusive boyfriend who was 18 years her senior and became a teen mum all while trying to juggle the success of becoming the first commercially successful female rapper at the age of 14. So all of this is happening in her teenage years and it’s really a story of strength and survival and I hope the audience really recognizes that.

How did you find relating to all that, and the ability to perform those experiences?

Chante Adams: It was a struggle, honestly. I remember calling Nia Long one day, she played my mother, about this scene we were shooting the next day. I’m 22, I was 21 when we shot the movie and I haven’t been through anything that she went through at the age of 15, 16. So being able to channel that, I was worried about it. Now of course I have training, so I could do it, but I didn’t want to just do it, I wanted to do it justice. So I called her up and I said, ‘I’m having troubles, we’ve got this big scene coming up tomorrow and I just want to make sure that it’s done right.’

The advice that she gave me was to think of all the women who have actually been through that. Who can actually relate to her story, who are going to see that and see themselves on that screen. That really stuck with me and I was thinking about that through the entire day. When they called ‘action’ and that thought came back into my head and I thought about the millions of women who have been in abusive relationships, who have had to deal with alcoholic family members, who have had to take on responsibilities as children that they definitely weren’t ready for but had to do it anyway because they had no choice, it really just let it all out for me. It was the best advice she could have given me.

“As long as diversity and inclusion becomes a real thing in Hollywood and not just something that happens because it’s the cool thing to do, I definitely think we can progress and move forward as an industry” – Chante Adams

So is acting your first love?

Chante Adams: Oh yeah! I was doing an interview and someone asked me what my hobbies were and I couldn’t answer the question because I’m like, ‘Does my job count?’

When did you know that this is what you wanted to do?

Chante Adams: I kind of fell into it. It was my first day of high school and a friend of mine was going to audition for the play and she was the only friend I had in that class, so I was like, ‘Don’t leave me, I’m going to come with you.’ I didn’t want to audition, I just wanted to sit and wait, but the teacher told me if I was going to sit there then I needed to audition. I said, ‘That’s not necessary, I have plans to be a professional cheerleader, so I don’t need to audition for the play.’ But she told me to get on the stage and she gave me the audition sides for this student-written play, and I got up there and auditioned, and I got that play, and never looked back from there.

Do you think diversity in Hollywood is slowly changing, and what’s the path forward? Do you think there’s a bright future?

Chante Adams: I like to think that, I really do. Just the difference between the Oscars last year and the Oscars this year and the changes they’ve made at the Academy, I think if we can do that in other genres of art, as long as diversity and inclusion becomes a real thing in Hollywood and not just something that happens because it’s the cool thing to do, I definitely think we can progress and move forward as an industry. I always like to keep a positive outlook on things. From what’s been going on, especially with the success of Moonlight, I think that we’ve got a good chance. I’m rooting for Hollywood, I think they can do it!

“I want to do movies that give a voice to the voiceless, or hearing stories that you don’t hear that often and especially giving voices to black women” – Chante Adams

What kind of projects would be your dream to work on?

Chante Adams: This question’s always difficult because the role that was Roxanne Shante and in that movie, and playing the lead in a feature film, that was my biggest dream! So I kind of have to go back to my drawing board, rethinking. Of course I want to continue to do that, I want to do movies that give a voice to the voiceless, or hearing stories that you don’t hear that often and especially giving voices to black women. That’s something I’m very passionate about. Now I feel like the sky’s the limit and I can do anything!

You’ve been involved in Pharrell’s G-Star X25 Elwood collaboration – what print did you choose?

Chante Adams: I chose the Dazzle Camouflage print! I saw a picture of Pharrell wearing them on his Instagram and I was immediately drawn to them because they looked like an illusion. They were mesmerizing. And they stood out! But they were also black and white and had a camouflage element to them, which made them the the opposite of what I initially thought of them. I liked that because I think it describes me as a person. It describes different parts of me, like when I’m on stage and I’m performing or I’m in front of the camera I definitely think I stand out in my own type of way. But when I’m just me and I’m being myself I’m definitely more black and white and pretty plain, so I thought it was a good representation of my personality.