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The Independent Critic

LaMonta Stone, Brent Darby Jr., Ahmoni Weston, Legend Geeter
Hamoody Jaafar
90 Mins.

 Movie Review: Rouge 
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Fresh off its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Hamoody Jaafar's Rouge is an engaging and thought-provoking feature doc is set in the struggling industrial town of River Rouge, Michigan. It's the kind of town where you look around and you see the struggle, a racially integrated place that is also one of America's most economically and environmentally challenged zip codes. 

Yet, as we quickly learn, River Rouge is so much more. 

Rouge is a coming of age story following the lives of current student-athletes for the River Rouge Panthers, a team that has one of America's richest basketball legacies. In the 1950's legendary high school basketball coach Lofton Greene led the recently integrated Panthers to a record number of state championships in a league of otherwise segregated schools. His record astounds and yet his name hardly offers household familiarity. Now, former Panther LaMonta Stone returns to the town to help the Panthers chase the school's 15th state championship. Rouge focuses on Stone and his student-athletes including Brent Darby Jr., Legend Geeter, and Ahmoni Weston among others. 

Jaafar understands from the get go that Rouge is more than simply a sports doc. Not that there's anything wrong with sports docs, however, Rouge transcends the genre by capturing the majesty and dignity of these men and their lives. As Jaafar himself has noted, River Rouge "was the gateway to the industrial revolution and provided one of the highest numbers of servicemen and women in the country during World War II." Yet, River Rouge also blazed a trail in high school basketball and it's a trail so few even know about it. Lofton Greene's accomplishments from the 1950s through the 1970s astound. He stood tall when so many would have knocked him down if given the chance. 

Jaafar weaves together the wonder of this town, the wonder of Greene, the wonder of the returning LaMonta Stone, and the absolute glory and possibility of these young men and their lives. He understands that this is more than chasing basketball glory - it's about chasing the American dream and including everyone in that dream. 

Original music by Osei Essed amplifies the film's naturalistic yet inspirational tones. Rouge captures a celebration of past yet also the fierce determination that keeps striving for that legacy and that ongoing celebration. 

Rouge counts among its executive producers Sam Pollard, an American film director, editor, producer, and screenwriter whose films have gathered Peabodys, Emmys, and an Academy Award nomination among others. These films include the remarkable Mr. Soul!, MLK/FBI, Citizen Ashe, and others. 

Early in its festival run, there's no doubt that Rouge will enjoy a lengthy festival journey and will hopefully find a home with a quality indie distributor to bring it to its deserved masses. Rouge is both immensely entertaining to watch and has an awful lot to say. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic