Sanaa Lathan came out with her directorial debut, On the Come Up, which finally made its way to streaming and select theaters on September 23. The veteran actor brought Angie Thomas’ 2019 best-selling eponymous to life with a hip-hop coming-of-age story – which premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival – starring himself, Jamila C. Gray, Method Man, Lil Yachty, Mike Epps, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, GaTa, Miles Gutierrez-Riley and Titus Makin Jr. and Michael Anthony Cooper Jr.
“[‘On the Come Up’] is really a coming-of-age story, and the hip-hop part of it is part of what makes it come into its own.”
While “On the Come Up” is Lathan’s first time behind the camera for a film, she is no stranger to telling music-inspired stories. The actor’s many credits include “Love & Basketball,” the “Best Man” franchise, and Rick Famuyiwa’s hip-hop rom-com “Brown Sugar,” which features Lathan and her longtime co-star Taye Diggs as childhood friends Sidney “Syd” Shaw and Andre played. Dre” Ellis almost 20 years ago.
Though “Brown Sugar” and “On the Come Up” follow two very different storylines, Lathan admits it still feels like a moment to come full circle to bring another hip-hop story to the big one bring canvas. “It’s interesting because ‘Brown Sugar’ was a love story set in the world of hip-hop, and this is a coming-of-age story set in the world of battle rap,” she tells POPSUGAR . “So yeah, it has the same themes because it’s hip-hop culture, but they’re really so drastically different. The battle rap scene, which is still very strong and effective to this day, is really exciting and very different from the radio hip hop hits you hear. . . . [‘On the Come Up’] is really a coming of age story and the hip hop part of it is part of what makes it come into its own and I’m just so proud of that.”
Lathan both directed and starred in her book-to-movie adaptation as Jay, Bri’s (Gray) mother, a recovering addict struggling to keep her family together through financial hardship. During a 2021 episode of the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast, Lathan opened up about her connection to the story of the main character of “On the Come Up” and drug-addicted family members, making it almost a no-brainer for her to take part in the film from both sides .
“It was a challenge,” she tells us. “I fell in love with the character of Jay, the mother, working on the script and doing rewrites and all that. I just felt really compelled to play them, and I knew having those two hats was going to be a huge challenge. But I’ve been acting my whole life and I was like, ‘I get that.’ And yet it was, ‘Oh, it’s hair and makeup time?’ It was always a little disconcerting to have to switch hats because you’re using a different part of the brain. But all in all it worked.”
“On the Come Up” is now streaming on Paramount+.