In Little, the film released last week, Martin first appears as a 13-year-old named Jordan Sanders, who’s bullied by her middle-school classmates for being a nerdy science enthusiast. After an embarrassing moment at a talent show, she swears she’ll get back at them—and everyone else who belittles her—when she’s big (and a boss). The film then cuts to Jordan as a hyper-successful 38-year-old tech CEO, played by Regina Hall. The big Jordan is cartoonishly evil to all her employees, especially her assistant, April (Issa Rae). One day, a young girl visiting their office takes note of Jordan’s nasty attitude and casts the film’s inciting curse: “I wish you were little.”
Much of Little’s humor and warmth comes from Martin, who is a delight to watch, especially as the body-swapped adult Jordan. Some viewers may know her as Diane Johnson, one of the children on ABC’s black-ish, but in the film Martin gives an impressive lead performance. Little’s snark gives her the opportunity to showcase a broad range: She harnesses all of Hall’s anger and toxicity as the older Jordan with an undercurrent of vulnerability.
Martin also produced the film. At 14, that makes her the youngest executive producer in Hollywood, a feat made more impressive by the story that Martin fired an agent who “didn’t support me when I wanted to create my own projects when there was no available roles,” as she wrote on Twitter earlier this year. “They wanted me to chill and wait for the roles to come, instead of create them.”
Little doesn’t just present Martin with the kind of starring role she might’ve had to wait years for as a black girl. It also highlights the tremendous talent of Regina Hall, who has often been a criminally underrated actor despite decades of stellar work. Issa Rae, who created Insecure, lends some of her trademark humor to the role of April, balancing adult Jordan’s caustic tendencies with goofiness and growing aplomb. The film was also directed by the screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism and written by Tracy Oliver, both of whom are black women.
In this, the movie’s existence makes the case for one of its central themes: Black girls and women often offer one another invaluable support even when no one else will grant them opportunities. Early in Little, the adult Jordan tells April that she had to pitch her company 17 times before any investors would say yes to a black woman in tech; by the end of the film, that number takes on a new significance after Jordan takes a chance on April’s idea for a new app.
For all its moments of social commentary, though, Little is also a studio comedy. There are laughs galore, often right alongside the pithy analysis. (And, there are several scenes featuring the actor and singer Luke James as an earnest hunk.) One recurring joke, for example, involves Jordan’s biggest client, Connor (Mikey Day), a painfully recognizable tech figure: “I lived a hard-knock life,” the wealthy white man tells her in one scene, before lamenting the so-called struggle of having only been given $5 million dollars by his father to start a company when he’d planned for $10 million. For anyone who’s grown weary of articles about “self-made” moguls who borrowed from the bank of mom and dad to get their footing, the film’s send-ups of Connor are particularly satisfying.