Roxanne Shante was D.J.-ing at a party in 2016 when she noticed two women in the crowd waving their hands in the air. “I thought, I must be doing a hell of a job hosting,” Ms. Shante said. As it turns out, the women had been looking for her: They wanted to produce a movie based on Ms. Shante’s life as a little-known hip-hop pioneer. “I was like, O.K. these must be some really strong drinks,” Ms. Shante said.
You can’t blame Ms. Shante for her skepticism. As dramatized in “Roxanne, Roxanne” — a biopic having its premiere in theaters and on Netflix on Friday — she endured crushing betrayals after that first blast of success.
In 1984, prompted by UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” about a woman who had spurned that rap trio’s romantic entreaties, Ms. Shante, then 14 and living in the Queensbridge projects in Long Island City, changed her first name from Lolita to Roxanne and released an answer record with lyrics like “If he worked for me, you know he would be fired” and “He ain’t really cute, and he ain’t great/He don’t even know how to operate.” The record, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” became a huge hit for Ms. Shante and led to dozens of singles by other artists supposedly telling the real story of Roxanne.
“In the pre-internet days, that was a meme,” said Alan Light, former editor in chief of Vibe and a contributor to The New York Times. “It took on a crazy momentum.”
As the film depicts, however, Ms. Shante was mistreated by managers and other men in the music industry and proved unable to release an album for five years, dealing her a severe career blow. But she emerged from these experiences stronger and wiser. “Everyone goes through heartache, and it’s O.K. to cry and break down, but you’ve just got to get yourself together,” Ms. Shante, now 48, said over breakfast in Newark, where she runs a nonprofit organization for troubled teenagers called Mind Over Matter. “I went through it, and I’m O.K.”
Now, thanks to “Roxanne, Roxanne,” Ms. Shante may finally be recognized as the groundbreaking figure she is. “She was really the first solo female rapper,” Mr. Light said. “She showed it could be done and illustrated possibilities that had never been there before. That’s a lasting legacy.”
Mahershala Ali, the “Moonlight” Oscar winner who co-stars as Ms. Shante’s abusive, much older manager and boyfriend, agreed that her contribution to hip-hop couldn’t be overstated. “I don’t know if people are really aware of what doors she opened for women in rap — from Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim to Nicki Minaj and Cardi B,” he said.
Ms. Shante also had an effect on Nia Long, who plays Roxanne’s headstrong mother in the movie and who remembered listening to the artist’s music in the ’80s. “I thought, here’s a girl who has brown skin and almond-shaped eyes, just like I do.”
“I was singing her records in the bathroom mirror with my braces, bangs, ponytail and red lipstick,” Ms. Long added. “You never know how things that shaped your life as a girl will come back and reshape your life.”
The biopic, written and directed by Michael Larnell, was well-received when it played Sundance last year. Variety called it “a vivid and unusually honest drama about the pain and bravado that were the fuel of hip-hop,” and The Hollywood Reporter singled out Chanté Adams, in her screen debut as the rapper, saying she had “terrific range and an incandescent screen presence.”
Ms. Adams had just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University when she landed the role, and she went on to win a special jury prize for breakthrough dramatic performance at Sundance. The similarity of their names made it seem like destiny. “We always say it’s a Chanté/Shante thing,” Ms. Adams said. “It felt meant to be.” Ms. Shante added: “I think Chanté was born for the part. Her parents made her for me.”
As an executive producer of the film, Ms. Shante was frequently on the set giving Ms. Adams advice on how to recreate her life realistically. During one scene in which Roxanne shoplifts clothes, “I was like, ‘That’s not how you steal!’” Ms. Shante recalled with a laugh. “‘You can’t look down. You just have to fold and drop. They would have caught you every time!’”
The story of a woman who suffers at the hands of men and fights back with the power of her words may resonate deeply in the #MeToo era. “I was very strong-willed and strong-minded,” Ms. Shante said. “But that situation has been around since the beginning of time, and there’s a lot that still needs to be done.”
Mr. Ali sees his character as a cautionary example for men. “We have to be more conscious of how we support, protect and take care of women — and not in a patronizing way,” he said.
Nina Yang Bongiovi and Mimi Valdes, the women at the party in 2016, are among the producers of “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The film arrives amid signs of a cultural shift that has allowed more stories about women of color to be told across a wide range of genres: comedy (“Girls Trip”), fantasy (“A Wrinkle in Time”), superhero movies (“Black Panther,” with its female soldiers).
“We are thirsty to see ourselves as the central characters in big movies,” Ms. Long said. “Black people have always been capable of starring in blockbuster movies. Hollywood just caught up.”
For Ms. Shante, seeing her life transformed into a movie feels like a bittersweet, long-overdue victory. “The Roxanne Shante story is not an easy one, but I’ve always been willing to share my life — the more you give, the more you get,” she said, adding that this time, “I was actually able to sit back and say, ‘Wow, something good came out of all of this.’”
An earlier version of this article rendered Roxanne Shante’s last name incorrectly. It does not take an accent over the e.
Streaming on Netflix on Friday