We Grown Now: Homes and roots


In the 1990s, the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago became a symbol of urban decay and danger. Yet for some it was the only home they knew. In We Grown Now, written and directed by Minhal Baig, we see this world through the eyes of two young boys who live there. For them it the place they play and dream, somewhat oblivious to the dangers and poverty all around them.

Malik (Blake Cameron James) and his best friend Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) open the film hauling an abandoned mattress out of the building so they can have contests of seeing how high they can jump onto it. In an empty apartment they look up into imagined stars. Malik’s mother Dolores (Jurnee Smollett) is frustrated at work, where she feels she should be advancing. She is struggling to raise Malik and his younger sister with the help of her own mother, Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson).

Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez in WE GROWN NOW. Courtesy of Participant. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Malik and Eric live in a bubble of innocence. This is, after all, the only home they have ever known. Malik is a third-generation resident. When school becomes boring, the two cut class and take the train downtown to the Art Institute (arguably a much more educational time than the film they were supposed to be watching.)  They may not even be aware of the struggle their parents are dealing with to provide them a home, or the dangers of the world outside their apartment doors.

When a child is shot walking to school, all this changes. It is not just that death has entered their world (they still don’t seem to recognize their own mortality); it brings drastic changes to their world. The housing authority now demands identity cards for all residents. The police show up at three a.m. to search (and destroy) every apartment looking for drugs.

When Dolores is offered a better job, it would mean moving to Peoria, uprooting the family. This potential move is upsetting for Dolores. She also grew up in Cabrini-Green. The world away from this place is unknown to her.

Jurnee Smollett in WE GROWN NOW. Courtesy of Participant. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

For Malik and Eric this is a devastating possibility. It will break the lifelong bond they share. Eric feels betrayed. He tells Malik, “We were born here, we live here, and we die here.” The boys have no way of dealing with their emotions, and end up acting out in unhealthy ways.

It is only Anita who understands that homes and roots are not limited to place. Talking to Malik, she recounts moving with her husband from Tupelo, Mississippi. She tells him she misses the people she knew there, but not the place. She also remembers the sense of community in the early days of Cabrini-Green. It is not so much nostalgia as it is grieving. She likens communities to dandelions that have a root in one place, but the seeds blow away and take root wherever they end up.

The sense of home is one that is important to Minhal Baig. Her father was an immigrant from Pakistan, settling in the Chicago area. Baig and her siblings struggled after he died to decide what to do with his house. It was losing a piece of their past and their place of rootedness. I think this is a common malady in a world that is increasingly mobile. People may feel lost and untethered. The answer in We Grown Now is that we can find roots in family and new community where our seeds take root.

Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez in WE GROWN NOW. Courtesy of Participant. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

We Grown Now is in select theaters on April 19th, 2024..

Photos courtesy of Participant and Sony Pictures Classics

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