Audiences were introduced to an all-Black, all-female quartet of actresses with the debut of the bank robbery thriller, Set It Off. The film, directed by Straight Outta Compton’s F. Gary Gray, made its debut 20 years ago on Nov. 6, 1996, and helping to propel the careers of its leading ladies.
Starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise, Set It Off is based in Los Angeles and follows the story of Fox’s Frankie character. Early in the film, Frankie is fired from her job as a bank teller after her branch is robbed because she knows the suspect. After losing her job, she joins her best friends who are working on a cleaning crew.
Latifah’s Cleo and Frankie hatch a plot to rob banks and start a new life for themselves outside the housing projects. Smith’s Stoney and Elise’ T.T. are initially reluctant but go along but agree once the group faces a series of setbacks. After Frankie’s brother is wrongfully gunned down, she and Cleo convince the rest of the group to get into the bank robbery business.
The film, also starring Blair Underwood, was made on a $9 million budget and made a respectable $41 million at the box office. Smith, Fox, Latifah and the then largely unknown Elise, in her first feature film, would all go on to thriving careers, along with former music video director Gray, for whom this was his second film.
The accompanying soundtrack, featuring Brandy, Queen Latifah, En Vogue Busta Rhymes, Chaka Khan and MC Lyte, among others, went platinum that same year. The soundtrack’s big hit “Don’t Let Go (Love)” which went to #2 on the Billboard charts, was Dawn Robinson’s last with the group and the group’s last Top Ten song.
According to a 2015 interview, Smith initially wanted the role of Cleo.