We Grown Now: Youth under fire

Set in 1992 within the Cabrini Green neighbourhood of Chicago, We Grown Now looks at the lives of two young boys, Malik (Blake James Cameron) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez). Their family homes–and legacy–confronts them as their neighbourhood comes under the scare of ever-growing gun violence and the death of innocents.

The third feature written and directed by Minhal Baig, the film looks at a specific point in time and a specific place through the eyes of its children and how they respond to the threat of violence with hope and a yearning for beauty and joy. As a Chicago native, Baig did extensive interviews with members of this community and that care shows in the filmmaking. The film is often very meditative, holding on its setting and staying with its characters through their less dramatic moments but the film remains fulfilling for that reason. This is a creative and well-lensed film, that includes camera moves and angles that emulate the children’s perspective and sense of rhythm. The care and time taken to witness something simple as a kid jumping into a pile of mattresses to break their fall or playing hopscotch illustrates to the audience the director’s sense of care and knowledge.

These kids see these moments as significant and ones that might last forever considering how much of their young lives these movements take up. The more conventionally filmed scenes focus on the drama and relationship between these kids and their parents played by Jurnee Smollett and ‘Lil Rel Howery. They provide a glimpse into the beginning of a loss of innocence and conflict as the kids desire for adventure collides with the frightening reality of the potential violence and crime happening as city attempts to handle it. The clear boundaries on these boys lives pushes them to explore beyond their walk from their homes to school and see a world outside of their immediate neighbourhood.

The film features lush and gorgeous cinematography. Like many films in more impoverished and cold settings, Baig tries to find the beauty and peace within the lives of these children and allows you to see their world through their childlike sense of wonder. The contrast in color displayed with some of the grey and cold concrete of their neighbourhood’s brightening the reds, purples and blues of their clothes, hula hoops and fabrics create immaculate and crisp images that stick with you.


Cinematographer Patrick Scola brought a lot of passion and purpose to the images in this film. (You’ll continue to see his work this year in films like Sing Sing from A24 and A Quiet Place: Day 1 from director Michael Sarnoski, whom Scola collaborated with on Pig, starring Nic Cage.) The casting for the kids is also very impressive as illustrated in their performances. The director brings out meaningful and believable dialogue out of the kids and its focus on their stories and their choices is what makes this a special film. The music from one of my favorite composers Jay Wadley swoons and soars over these scenes of beauty and still brings the heavy emotional scenes to a climax that invites the audience to share in the emotion and sadness the characters experience. It reminds me of If Beale Street Could Talk but it’s very much its own thing, focusing more on simple but complex violin melodies to create the expressionist sound scape the film demands.

We Grown Now is in theatres on Friday, May 10th, 2024.

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