28 Days of Black Movies: ‘Set It Off’ depicts a perfect example of what we mean by ‘ride or die’ friendships

OPINION: How far would you be willing to go to help your friends?

Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox and Jada Pinkett Smith in "Set It Off." (New Line Cinema)

Black women’s friendships are built different. We go hard for each other. We hold each other up. We are willing to do what needs to be done to help our girls. 

I have always told my best friend, “If there is a body that needs to be buried, just let me know where it is.” 

It’s that deep. We love our girls, and we are willing to do (mostly) anything for them. 

Stony (Jada Pinkett Smith), Cleo (Queen Latifah), Frankie (Vivica A. Fox) and T.T. (Kimberly Elise) are those types of friends with and for each other. They hold each other down until (literally) the very end. 

Frankie is a bank teller who is the victim of a bank robbery. She recognizes the young man who comes in to rob the bank and even calls him by name. When the police come to investigate the robbery, they suspect that she had something to do with it (she didn’t) because she knew the person involved. This causes her to be fired from the bank. 

Frankie goes to work with Cleo, Stony and T.T. at their job cleaning office buildings for a man named Luther (Thomas Jefferson Byrd). They are underpaid, overworked, and Luther is a complete jerk to them every chance they get. Tired of his crap, Cleo suggests that they rob a bank themselves, and Frankie agrees, but T.T. and Stony don’t think it’s a good idea. 

T.T. and Stony change their minds after Stony’s brother is killed by LAPD in a case of mistaken identity and T.T.’s son is taken away from her by Child Protective Services. 

Blair Underwood and Jada Pinkett Smith in “Set It Off.” (New Line Cinema)

The four of them successfully complete several bank robberies. They hide their money in an air conditioning vent at their job, but this is later discovered by Luther, who steals the money and quits his job. When the ladies find out, they track him down to a motel where he is holed up with a prostitute. Cleo demands the money back, but Luther tells her that it has already been spent. He subsequently pulls a gun out on Cleo, and fearing for her friend, T.T. shoots him dead. 

With their money gone and no other options, Cleo convinces the group that they should commit one more robbery and then skip town. They decide to take down a large downtown bank where Keith (Blair Underwood), a man Stony has been dating, is the manager. Before they go to rob the bank, Stony calls Keith and asks him to meet her somewhere else so that he won’t be there when they rob his branch. 

Everything seems to go as planned until Cleo tells T.T. to go after more money. When she does, LAPD arrives, demanding the women surrender. A bank security guard shoots T.T. Stony shoots the guard, and all hell breaks loose. 

They manage to escape the bank branch, but T.T. dies while they are in the car. They continue trying to elude the police, but as things get tight, Cleo suggests that they split up. She tells Frankie and Stony to take her share of the money with them as they run off. 

Cleo leads the police on a high-speed chase that ends with her being cornered by them. She lights a cigarette, takes a few pulls, and then gets out of her car and starts shooting at them. This is where my favorite phrase “Going out like Cleo” comes from because the police light her up, but she went out like a GANGSTER, OK?!

Frankie and Stony are making their way to a bus on its way to Mexico when the LAPD detectives catch up with them. Stony watches from the bus window as Frankie is asked to surrender, and instead of doing so, she turns to run. The police shoot her in the back, killing her. 

Stony is the only one of the four friends to survive. A police detective spots her on the Mexico bus but decides to let her go. 

Stony makes her way to Mexico, cuts off all her hair, and the last we see of her, she is driving through the Mexican hillside with a pile of money beside her. 

So again, I ask, how far would you go for your friends? Would you rob a bank with them? Would you destroy your whole life for them? Would you run off to Mexico with the bag after they were all killed?

If you are Stony, Cleo, Frankie or T.T., the answer is yes. 

That’s a down-ass friendship. 

Monique Judge

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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