If you were at a club at 2:00 AM and a nine year-old little girl got up on the stage and started rapping, your natural instinct would likely cause you to smile and say, "Aw, that's so funny/cute/random/disturbing." You'd have an amusing story to tell your friends the next day. Gabriel Noble probably had the same initial reaction when he saw Priscilla Star Diaz (a.k.a. "P-Star") perform five years ago in lower Manhattan, but something about P-Star captured his curiousity and wouldn't let go. He spent the next day filming Priscilla and her family, and then the next day after that, and then the next four years after that. P-Star Rising, which premiered at Tribeca in April and is currently on the festival circuit, richly documents Priscilla's tumultuous emergence as a child star, and the youngest ever female rapper.
Watching Priscilla, her sister, Solsky, and her father, Jesse, move from a one-room Harlem shelter to a four-bedroom apartment and leased SUV is often uplifting but frequently discomfiting. Jesse was an aspiring rapper in his own right in the late 80's, but poor career management and a two-year prison stint (for selling cocaine) derailed his future, leaving you to question his ability to manage Priscilla's career. His wife fell in too deep with drugs and could not care for their daughters, so it was up to him, a failed rapper and convicted felon, to try and support two young girls on his own. He worked odd jobs when he could find them, but most of his energy was spent trying to revive his rapping career - until he discovered Priscilla's talent. (He also apparently home schools Priscilla, a somewhat disturbing detail that isn't given much attention here.)
On the surface this might look like another story of a parent trying to ride the coattails of their child's success, and while that element no doubt exists here, P-Star Rising is as much about the current state of the music business as it is about parenting. Priscilla is treated as a commodity ("A brand, not an artist, not a rapper - a brand", her producer insists) and essentially given cash on demand to stay happy and hard working. Sometimes she is performing with and for adults (she has to wait patiently during one recording session while her collaborator smokes a blunt), and sometimes she is performing with and for kids. Fortunately and despite her incredible maturity, her career settles into the latter track, where she achieves great success in the Latin America teen markets before earning a starring role on PBS' "The Electric Company".
Her stardom comes at a cost, however, as Solsky is all but neglected by her father. She is failing all of her classes and remains desperate to reunite with her strung-out mother, if only to feel some semblance of a family. Jesse, for his part, appears solely focused on P-Star's earnings, boasting about the money they have before wasting it on clothing and then pitifully whining about where he's going to get money to pay the rent. Eventually he acknowledges that his responsibility as a parent is to provide, not to be provided for, and he takes a part-time job with a catering company. But most of the time it seems that Jesse is helpless in his role as a parent, and that P-Star is successful despite his management, not as a result of it.
The silver lining in this occasionally depressing tale is that Priscilla really does live up to her middle name. She is immensely talented and impossibly precocious. Her career appears to be on a solid track for now, and if she ends up being the next big thing, P-Star Rising will be an invaluable record of her truly humble beginning.