Light It Up (film)

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Light It Up
Light it up poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Craig Bolotin
Produced by Tracy Edmonds
Written by Craig Bolotin
Starring Usher Raymond
Forest Whitaker
Judd Nelson
Rosario Dawson
Robert Ri'chard
Sara Gilbert
Clifton Collins, Jr.
Fredro Starr
Vanessa L. Williams
Narrated by Robert Ri'chard
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography Elliot Davis
Edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont
Edmonds Entertainment
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
November 10, 1999
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million[1]
Box office $5,985,690[2]

Light It Up is a 1999 American hostage crime drama film starring an ensemble cast that consists of R&B singer/actor Usher Raymond (in his first leading role), Rosario Dawson, Forest Whitaker, and Vanessa L. Williams. The film was written and directed by Craig Bolotin, and produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and his wife Tracy Edmonds.

The film follows six teenage high school seniors who hold a wounded police officer hostage and barricade themselves inside the school.

Plot summary[edit]

The film starts off in an urban neighborhood in Queens, the events are narrated by Julius Zacharias 'Ziggy' Malone (Robert Ri'chard), who introduces his former classmates/friends at Lincoln High School: Lester DeWitt (Usher Raymond), who lost his father, hard-working student Stephanie Williams (Rosario Dawson), who is aiming high and yearns to leave Lincoln as soon as possible, gangster/thug Rodney J. Templeton (Fredro Starr) who gets into fights with other students; rebellious classmate Lynn Sabatini (Sara Gilbert) who is already a couple of months pregnant; and Robert Tremont a.k.a. "Rivers" (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a close friend of both Lester and Ziggy.

The film later introduces police officer Dante Jackson (Forest Whitaker) as he tries to arrest Lester after a misunderstanding, and Ken Knowles (Judd Nelson), a kind, warm-hearted teacher whose class covers significant 20th century events. When the classroom's windows are broken by rocks, Mr. Knowles takes them to the principal's office, where Principal Allen Armstrong (Glynn Turman) tells Knowles to take them "anywhere".

Since there is no space anywhere in the school, Knowles and the kids go to a local diner, where a robbery takes place. Knowles confronts the robber, who was a former student that dropped out of school. Principal Armstrong is infuriated by what Knowles has done, and puts him on administrative leave. Lester, Stephanie and Ziggy are at the main office as Knowles leaves the school. Stephanie is disgusted that Principal Armstrong has ignored that he told Knowles to "take the class anywhere" and confronts him about this. In response Principal Armstrong suspends Rivers, Ziggy, Stephanie and Lester from the school and calls in Officer Jackson to remove all of them. Ziggy decides to leave but Officer Jackson restrains him. This event is witnessed by other students at the school and soon everything turns into a small riot.

Lester tries to resist Officer Jackson and loses, but Ziggy picks up Officer Jackson's dropped Glock 19 pistol and says "I [Ziggy] cannot go home." The reason for this, is because Ziggy has been physically abused by his father for many years. Officer Jackson tries to restrain Ziggy but gets accidentally shot in the leg as he grabs for his gun. Principal Armstrong tells school security to call an ambulance and the N.Y.P.D. in order to arrest Ziggy. Lester then grabs the gun and orders everyone to evacuate the school. This finally forces the N.Y.P.D. detectives to come in, led by Detective Audrey McDonald (Vanessa L. Williams) as a negotiator.

In the middle of all of this, there is a subplot in which Lynn berates Stephanie for being a "goody-two shoes", and a fight in the school's library that includes Rivers and Rodney, as well as Officer Jackson fleeing from Rodney and the others after knocking him out to use the bathroom. Another notable subplot was Ziggy showing everyone his artistic talents, such being a mural of himself and others on a classroom wall.

Still waiting after a couple of hours, the group continues to hold Officer Dante Jackson against his will. Lester tells everybody, including Stephanie and Dante about how his father (Robert Lee Minor) who was gunned down during a wrongful arrest. In the next few scenes, Rivers, Lynn, Rodney, Ziggy, Stephanie, and Lester, a.k.a. "The Lincoln 6", are all becoming infamous across New York City, as they are exposed and identified on such networks such as BET, NBC, NY1 and CBS, as well as MTV, as well being announced on radio. Debate continues as the events taking place, until Detective McDonald and her colleague (Vic Polizos) debate on getting the kids something, which after several hours of stalling, the electricity being shut down at the school and the SWAT team storming in on the others as Lester takes Officer Jackson on top of the roof. There, Lester tells Officer Jackson that he resents all policemen for what has happened to his father, and Jackson tries to reassure him. The confrontation goes horribly wrong when Ziggy comes to the roof and is shot down and killed by a sniper from a hovering police helicopter. In the end, 5 of the remaining surviving teens are taken into custody shortly after Ziggy is pronounced dead.

As the film reaches its climax, the narrator talks about what happened to the kids and the officer: Officer Jackson testified in court that the events did not happen as the media have portrayed them, thus giving the kids a less sentence. Lester spent two years in state prison and has gone off to a city college to study law. Stephanie spent one year in prison and went to study at St. John's University, Lynn was sentenced to one year in prison, but was released earlier due to having her baby boy (named after Ziggy) and is never heard from again. Rodney spends an unknown amount of time in prison and becomes a Muslim, Rivers is forced to join the military, due to the judge having him spent years in prison due to his priors or join the army. Mr. Knowles has been rehired back to the school and still teaches history. The end also shows Lester and Stephanie looking a painting that was crafted by Ziggy, who is forever remembered as the next Jean-Michel Basquiat a.k.a. "The Radiant Child".



The film was mostly shot at Calumet Career Prep High School in Chicago, Illinois, although set in New York City.


A soundtrack containing hip hop and R&B music was released on November 9, 1999 by Yab Yum/Elektra Records. It peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.


Critical response[edit]

Light It Up was released on November 10, 1999. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 43, which indicates "mixed or average" reviews, based on 27 reviews.[3] The film received negative to mixed reviews from film critics, holding a rating of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes.[4] Roger Ebert, said about Light it up, "The problem is the movie is too predictable--so predictable that it keeps it from truly generating suspense."[5] However audience ratings give Light It Up a 75% like rating according to Rotten Tomatoes based on 6 thousand ratings.


  1. ^ "light it up gross". box office mojo. 
  2. ^ "light it up gross". box office mojo. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Light it Up (1999)
  5. ^ Roger Ebert. "Light It Up". Retrieved 1 July 2012. 

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