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Movie Preview: Heartfelt “We Grown Now” Delivers Hopeful Portrait of Life in the Projects

we grown now

By Randal C. Hill 

Chances are that few of us grew up having to worry about life-threatening dangers on the streets where we lived. Not so, though, for Malik and Eric, two 12-year-old boys in Chicago who live in poverty in an area redolent with problems.  

In “We Grown Now,” both Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) live in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project. Ratty and rundown and noisy as the apartments may be by 1992—when this story takes place—the cramped rooms inside Cabrini-Green represent safe havens from the harshness outside. Here families can relax, bond, share love, even laugh occasionally.  

In quieter moments, the boys share their admiration for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, as well as talk about their dreams, their aspirations and what awaits them outside of Cabrini-Green, the only world they have ever known. 

Dolores (Jurnee Smollett) is Malik’s mother. A skilled accountant, she is offered a better job in Peoria. This will require a move, something that she badly wants, as she feels that she needs to leave Cabrini-Green for her son’s safety. Dolores knows all too well that her child will eventually have to deal with soul-crushing racism and often-brutal police who hassle the kids from the projects.

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Predictably, Malik feels that his mother’s decision to relocate is the worst possible news. He delays telling Eric the life-upending disclosure, and for a while their lives continue on together much as always, including a Ferris Bueller-type fun day off when the pair ditch school for a train ride into the Windy City.  

In time, though, the two must face a future in which they cannot always be there for one another.   

The Chicago-born producer-director-writer Minhal Baig has painstakingly painted us a cautiously hopeful portrait about coming of age in a place that all but guarantees the sad inevitable.  

“We Grown Now” from Sony Pictures Classics opens in theaters May 10.