Light It Up (1999)

Light It Up Poster

On a winter day in a southside Queens high school, events collide and six students are suddenly in an armed standoff with the NYPD. At the school, classrooms freeze, teachers come and go, resources are scant.

Film Overview
"Light It Up" is a 1999 American hostage police procedural film directed by Craig Bolotin. The motion picture features a group of defiant and disenchanted high school students who take over their own school after becoming annoyed with the insufficient instructional and social systems in place. The drama marks the turning point of their lives as they discover themselves in an unexpected stand-off with the authorities.

Plot Summary
"Light It Up" takes place in New York City at the imaginary Lincoln High School, riddled with many internal problems- dilapidated infrastructure, underfunding, and lack of resources. The situation worsens after a well-liked instructor is suspended unfairly, which leads to a group of students, including Lester Dewitt (played by Usher Raymond), Ziggy Malone (Robert Ri'chard), Rivers (Clifton Collins Jr.), Stephanie Williams (Rosario Dawson), Lynn Sabatini (Sara Gilbert), and Rodney J. Templeton (Fredro Starr), deciding to protest.

While objecting in the corridors, they experience Officer Dante Jackson (Forest Whitaker), a previous student turned school guard. An unintentional shooting takes place, causing Jackson being wounded, and high stress result in the students taking Jackson hostage. The school is quickly surrounded by the NYPD, and an intense, prolonged standoff ensues. The once rebellious, messy group is required to unify under the management of Lester to negotiate their terms with the cops and media.

"Light It Up" addresses different societal concerns like hardship, single-parent homes, teenage pregnancy, neglect by public schools, and police action. The trainees' desperation highlights the hidden problems in metropolitan public schooling in America. Each character represents a specific section of the school population, each with their difficulties, dreams, and fears. They embody the ignored voices that need to be heard, emphasizing the importance of discussion and negotiation in resolving social issues.

The climax and resolution of the film come when the students, who have successfully managed to communicate their message to the public through media coverage, choose to surrender. Regardless of the fear of what might take place to them, they leave, hands held high above their heads. The city views as they are arrested, but it's clear that their message about the need for change has reached masses.

Critical Reception
Regardless of the appealing storyline and strong performances, especially by Usher Raymond and Forest Whitaker, the movie divided critics. Some praised it for shedding light on severe social problems typically ignored in school dramas. Nevertheless, others criticized it for not diving deeper into the personal lives of the characters, hence missing the opportunity to deliver its message in a more impactful method. The movie achieved a modest box office success, grossing over $5.5 million in the United States.

In conclusion, "Light It Up" is not your typical teenager drama. It is an enthusiastic movie that aims to teach viewers about the struggles dealing with America's impoverished students and eventually triggers a dialogue about the need for major improvements in the general public education system.

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