Sanaa Lathan came out strong 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 bestselling novel of the same name to life with a hip-hop coming-of-age tale – which premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival – with herself, Jamila C. Gray, Method Man, Lil Yachty, Mike Epps, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, GaTa, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Titus Makin Jr., and Michael Anthony Cooper Jr.
“[‘On the Come Up’] is very much a coming of age story, and the hip-hop part of it is part of what drives her to step into her power.”
While “On the Come Up” marks Lathan’s first time behind the camera for a movie, she’s no stranger to telling stories inspired by music. The actor’s many credits include “Love & Basketball,” the Best Man franchise, and Rick Famuyiwa’s hip-hop rom-com “Brown Sugar,” in which Lathan and his longtime co-star Taye Diggs played Friends. childhood memories of Sidney “Syd” Shaw and Andre “Dre” Ellis nearly 20 years ago.
Even though “Brown Sugar” and “On the Come Up” follow two very different storylines, Lathan admits it still feels like a looping moment to bring another hip-hop story to the big screen. “It’s interesting because ‘Brown Sugar’ was a love story set in the world of hip-hop, and it’s a coming-of-age story in the world of fight rap,” said she told 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 going strong today, is really exciting and very different from the hip-hop hit radio you hear…. [‘On the Come Up’] is very much a coming of age story, and the hip-hop part of it is part of what drives her to take her power, and I’m so proud of that.”
Lathan took on the task of directing and starring in his book-movie adaptation as Jay, the mother of Bri (Gray), a recovering drug addict who struggles to keep her family together despite financial difficulties. During a 2021 episode of the “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” podcast, Lathan opened up about his connection to the story of the title character of “On the Come Up” and having family members who were addicted to the drugs, so it was almost a no-brainer for her to be in the movie on both sides.
“It was difficult,” she tells us. “I fell in love with the character of Jay, the mommy, when I was working on the script and doing rewrites and stuff. I felt really compelled to play her, and I knew it would be extremely difficult to have those two hats. But I’ve been acting all my life, and I was like, ‘I get it.’ And yet, it was always, ‘Oh, time to go do our hair and makeup?’ It was always a bit disconcerting to have to change your hat because it’s another part of your brain you’re using, but overall it worked.
“On the Come Up” is streaming now on Paramount+.