Set It Off: The Original Squad Goals

Whether it's your favorite musician, actress, tv show movie, there is a group of men or women who you want to emulate within your own circle of friends. That is the essential definition of "Squad Goals". Squad Goals is an aspirational term used to describe what you'd like your group of friends to be to accomplish. Many use celebrities or popularly circulated photos to describe their goals, but sometimes I wonder, what was the original and best example of “Squad Goals”? 

All four characters celebrating their first robbery.

All four characters celebrating their first robbery.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Set It Off, I think we should pay homage to the groundbreaking film that was the original definition of Squad Goals. On November 6th, 1996, Set It Off was released in theaters. Directed by F. Gary Gary, who already caused a buzz directing Friday and classic music videos such as Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” and TLC’s “Waterfalls”, Set It Off is a tale of four L.A women, struggling in different aspects of their life, who decided to start robbing banks in an attempt to live a better life and leave the hood behind. The film starred Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and the theatrical debut of Kimberly Elise. The film’s budget was only $9 million but ended up grossing $41 million at the box office. Set It Off has become a box office success and a beloved classic in the black community. The film has helped elevate the careers of all four actresses involved, especially for Fox and Pickett-Smith who have gone on to do more action films. Fox would later star in Kill Bill Volume 1 and Pinkett-Smith would later star in the multiple films of The Matrix franchise. 

 20 years later, it resonates with us for different reasons. Set It Off has been used as a discussion for gender, race, class, inner city violence, and social issues including black feminism. Not since the days of blaxploitation films and Pam Grier have movie audiences seen black actresses portrayed in a strong, action roles parallel to their male counterparts. Before the film, most films consisted of male-dominated organized mobs with one female member (with not too many lines) or they were the wives or girlfriends. Set It Off made it possible to women to color to take charge and be on the frontline of danger in films. 

A screenshot of the final bank robbery during the film. (From L-R, Elise, Pickett-Smith, and Latifah).

A screenshot of the final bank robbery during the film. (From L-R, Elise, Pickett-Smith, and Latifah).

Continuing the conversation of people of color, the film has touched on topics of black womanhood and economics. All four characters are up against challenged that are brought up solely because they are working class women of color. Like the characters in the movie, many women in the world, even today, are faced with the financial and emotional burdens of living in low-income areas, being a single mother, and dealing with the death of loved one, mostly men of color. Also, like the women in the film, women of color are forced to protect themselves and each other. Since the tragic losses of Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and Korryn Gaines, now more than ever does Set It Off reflect our community today. The film is a direct reflection of how black women need the most protection and the issues black women face when they are killed at the hands of police. While most gangster/mob movies involve men who are shooting and killing for territory and power, the women in Set It Off  are shooting and robbing for survival; with no male presence and little opportunities, they are often left to fend for themselves. Too many women are in jail, committing crimes, and are unfortunately no longer on this earth because of systematic racism, patriarchy, and sexism. Set It Off was the voice and story for the women who have to do whatever it takes to make ends meet. It was the perfect representation of a sisterhood that is well understood in the ghettos across America. 

In a world that praises others for the ability to cut people off, Set It Off reminds us of the true meaning of unity, friendship, and coming together for the betterment of themselves. These women came together because they struggled with the same issues. They understood that their sisterhood has to be stronger than the odds they are up against, whether it was robbing a bank or resolving their personal issues. Through the highs and the lows, these women stuck together, and 20 years later, the film connects to the black community and the issue black women face today. Cleo, Stony, Frankie, and T.T., they are the original Squad Goals.