Strive (film)

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Film poster
Directed byRobert Rippberger
Screenplay by
  • Piper Dellums
  • Sha-Risse Smith
Story bySha-Risse Smith
Produced by
  • Scott Rosenfelt
  • Tobias Deml
  • Ace Salvador
  • Hiroki Kamada
  • Robert Rippberger
  • Piper Dellums
  • Habib Paracha
StarringDanny Glover
Chelsea Lee Williams
Shaylin Becton
Ricky Flowers Jr.
CinematographyDominick Sivilli
Edited byGabriel Cullen
Music byWarryn Campbell
Aletheia Films
Prodigium Pictures
Release date
  • May 19, 2019 (2019-05-19) (Harlem)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

Strive is a 2019 American independent coming-of-age drama film. Set in Harlem, the film tells the story of Kalani Johnson (JoiStaRR), a driven 18-year-old high school student who dreams of getting accepted into Yale University while facing the challenging life in the projects and streets of Harlem - with her only ally being college counselor Mr. Rose (Danny Glover).

The film premiered at the Harlem International Film Festival in May 2019.[1][2] In June 2019, it screened in competition at the American Black Film Festival in Miami,[3][4][5] and won the Jury Award for "Best Screenplay".[6]


  • JoiStaRR as Kalani Johnson
  • Danny Glover as Mr. Rose
  • Shaylin Becton as Bebe Johnson
  • Ricky Flowers Jr. as Jacob Johnson
  • Chelsea Lee Wiliams as Grace Johnson
  • Warryn Campbell as The Pastor
  • Tony D. Head as Mr. Stokes


Pre-production for the film began at Aletheia Films and Prodigium Pictures in early 2017.[7] Writer Sha-Risse Smith set out to make an inspirational film: "I wish I had a film like this when I was going to boarding school. [...] I want people to watch this and say, if Kalani can do this I can too."[8] Glover joined the film in pre-production as Mr. Rose, a pivotal character for the film.[9]

Strive was shot on location in Harlem later that summer, hiring cast and crew that was mostly New York City-based. The events of the film loosely take place around the housing projects of the Polo Grounds Towers in Coogan's Bluff. The namesake for the film is Striver's Row. Filming took place in and around both of these locations.[citation needed] Residents and community leaders of Harlem were consulted to the choice of locations and depictions of characters.

Post-production happened in Los Angeles, with Company 3 providing the coloring of the film.[10] Campbell composed the music for the film, while JoiStaRR sang the closing song of the film.[citation needed]


"While the independent film scene is not lacking for human interest stories, Strive finds a place all its own, Rippberger able to balance the uplifting themes well among the more harrowing setbacks of a young woman’s life. Led by a deeply personal performance, the takeaway in all this is less about the broader strokes of a story filled with many affecting moments but more so the smaller intimate highlights that pull us into Kalani’s tiny corner, where we all feel part of what it means to be alive. Highly recommended."

— David Duprey[11]

"Strive isn't a feel-good film but it's a real film. It's relatable to a lot of people who have to pick and choose their loyalties when it comes to family, friends and themselves. Sometimes being selfish is the most selfless thing one can do."

— Erika Hardison[12]


Strive received the Audience Award, while JoiStaRR received the Best Actress Award at the Harlem International Film Festival and the film screenplay was awarded the Jury Award at the American Black Film Festival in 2019.[13][14] It was screened at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in June 2019,[4][15][16][17][18] at the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago in August 2019,[19] at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival in Ohio as well as the opening film for The Valley Film Festival in Los Angeles in September.[20][21]


  1. ^ "Harlem International Film Festival » Closing Night – Double Feature". Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  2. ^ "2019 Harlem International Film Festival Announces Lineup". Film Pulse. 2019-05-09. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  3. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  4. ^ a b "San Francisco Black Film Festival » Healing the world one film at a timeSchedule 2019 | San Francisco Black Film Festival". Archived from the original on 2019-07-04. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  5. ^ "American Black Film Festival". FilmFreeway. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  6. ^ Wills, Cortney (2019-06-17). "American Black Film Festival announces 'Best of ABFF' winners". theGrio. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  7. ^ "Strive". Prodigium Pictures. 2017-04-13. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  8. ^ "Interview with Robert Rippberger and Sha-Risse Smith about their upcoming movie, 'Strive'". MarkMeets | Entertainment, Music, Movie and TV News. 4 June 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  9. ^ "Danny Glover joins Harlem drama Strive". Flickering Myth. 2018-06-02. Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  10. ^ Strive, 19 May 2019, retrieved 2019-05-20
  11. ^ "That Moment In Reviews". 13 June 2019.
  12. ^ "Flickering Myth". 18 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Harlem International Film Festival » 2019 Awards". Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  14. ^ "2019 Award Winners". ABFF. Retrieved August 12, 2020.
  15. ^ "Official Selections 2019". San Francisco Black Film Festival. 2019-05-13. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  16. ^ "The Slate of Films in Competition Announced for the 2019 American Black Film Festival". American Black Film Festival. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  17. ^ BWW News Desk. "The Films in Competition Announced For The 2019 American Black Film Festival". Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  18. ^ [dead link]
  19. ^ Gronvall, Andrea (August 2019). "At 25 years old, the Black Harvest Film Festival still schwings". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  20. ^ "Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival | Film Schedule". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  21. ^ "Valley Film Festival begins in NoHo Arts District Saturday". Daily News. 2019-09-20. Retrieved 2019-09-25.

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