If you are an avid reader, one genre is never enough. I read it all, fiction, non-fiction, biographies, faith-based, graphic novels, self-help and everything in between. But during the 99 into the 2000's, “urban fiction” or “street lit” hit the scene in a major way. Every girl I knew between the ages of 17-23 was reading a book called True to the Game and when I got word this "street classic" was finally going to be in theaters, I had to see it.
True to the Game, the movie, is based on the novel with the same name by author Teri Woods. Woods changed the publishing game for every urban dwelling storyteller to come after her: True to the Game sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
Woods has solidified her spot along a list of other notable authors who have written polarizing work that speaks to cultural acualities. The Black experience has been penned from the valleys of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, to the alligator filled Florida swamps, from Harlem apartments above jazz clubs and everywhere between. As society changed and the Black experience evolved, so did our tales. Woods happened to come along at a time when hip hop was at its pinnacle, mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses had the FEDS kicking in doors on every block. The environment was ripe for gritty hood stories.
When I read True to the Game some years ago, it mirrored my life and the lives of the people around me:
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers.
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers from Philly or NY.
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers from Philly or NY and their friends.
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers from Philly or NY and their friends that loosely practiced Islam.
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers from Philly or NY and their friends that loosely practiced Islam and rocked a Sunni beards.
We read True to the Game because we dated drug dealers from Philly or NY and their friends who loosely practiced Islam and rocked a Sunni beard blacked out with Bigen.
*Courtesy of World Star Hip Hop
We were wifey, main chics, side chics, “aye, shortay” & “jawns”. We smoked Black and Mild’s or weed with our crew before we met up with our bad boys where we sat in the VIP section of the club. We went on trips. We went shopping. We ate good. We were ride or die. We didn’t want for anything. We were True to the Game. It was real, everyday life. (Don’t worry; I have since been deliver’t.)
Reading True to the Game was like looking in a mirror and every character was someone you knew… your man’s and them.
Both the book and movie follows a turbulent and all but familiar love story between a reluctant but streetwise Gena Hollins played by Erica Peeples and the hood dude every chic wanted, Quadir Richards played by Columbus Short.
Born and raised in Philadelphia’s toughest streets, Quadir, in typical drug dealer fashion, has a stable of women, but has his eye on a good girl minding her business who is focused on her studies, uninterested in being in another relationship. Gena lives with her grandmother Gah-Git, attends college with her heart set on becoming a writer. Quadir, nicknamed "Qua" is charming, irresistible, and paid. His courting approach opens Gena up to a lavish lifestyle but all too soon, she is faced with the harsh reality of what can happen to a girl loving someone who loves the streets.
*Courtesy of Fandango
We often ask when a book is adapted for film, which is better – the book or the movie? I would have to say True to the Game - the book - is much, much, much better than True to the Game - the movie. When reading a book, you draw your own conclusions about the characters as they develop. When watching a movie, the emotions you develop for the characters are almost spelled out for you. You find yourself saying, “that’s not how I imagined it,” and you leave the theater disappointed.
As I sat down with my buttery popcorn ready to compare my expectations with the film, I definitely pictured Quadir younger. Columbus short definitely is no longer a “gladiator” with his lil’ pot belly. He looked like a retired drug dealer. I believe this is due to some of the hardships Short has experienced in life off screen. But there is no denying, that man can act. No doubt Columbus Short still got it! His stellar performance was more than notable – he was believable as a “young, black, successful criminal”, a self depiction his character used to portray himself when confronted by Gena when she questioned him about his occupation. Short was appealing when he needed to be and gangsta when the time called for it. He played the part of a boss in love, eager to get out of the game, doing whatever was necessary to make that happen.
Vivica A. Fox had a small roll but if you read the book, you know her character had a much bigger impact on the story line. (Again, the book is always better than the movie.) The cast also reality TV entertainer and entrepreneur Draya Michele, and True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis who recently passed away from complications with heart failure.
*Courtesy of Fandango
I will say this in review of the True To the Game, the movie: This film deserved to be in movie theaters instead of a straight to DVD, in your nearest Red Box vending machine flop. Why? If there is room in the box office for films about men falling in love with operating systems or sharks in tornadoes, there is room for urban fiction to be played out on the big screen. The production was excellent, this film was not cheap at all. The acting was convincing even from the supporting cast members: Junior Mafia members Andra Fuller as Jerrell and Stanley R. Atwater as Rich. Quadir’s right hand men and business partners, Jamaar Simon as Rasan and Black played by Malcolm David Kelley aka "Lil Saint" from You Got Served.
The movie ended (almost) like the book so that means I am expecting Manny Halley Jr. of Imani Entertainment Group who bought the rights to True to the Game to roll out films for part two and part three following the continuation of the story. That gives you enough time to get the Trilogy from Amazon or (preferably Mahogany Books or another Black owned book retailer) and add this to your reading list.
True to the Game is a sign of hope that more street lit novels will find their way to many more screens. Fans of the genre have been waiting for The Coldest Winter Ever, Dutch (also by Teri Woods), B-More Careful, another Zane book or any one of Donald Goines' 16 stories to be cinematic features. Truth of the matter is, if Black Hollywood would pull their coins together to turn these books into movies, they wouldn't need a seat at the table or the crumbs that fall from it; from urban fictions and street literature alone they would never be out of work.
True to the Game is playing now in select theaters. If you have read the book, go see it. If you haven’t read the, book go see it. And if you saw it, leave me a comment below!