David, Goliath, and Project Power

D. Marquel

Editor's note: This post contains spoilers for Project Power.

Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback) is not just any high-school senior. In her own words, rhymed over the beat in her headphones: “I’m ‘That Kid’ / ‘This Black Kid’ / No coward / Spit it so they get it / I’m embedded with the power.” She’ll need that power, too, because her city is long overdue for a hero.

In Netflix's Project Power, a synthetic drug called “Power” circulates the streets of New Orleans. The pill is designed to unleash the user’s unique “super” abilities. The results are straight out of a comic book: When Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who drops Power to “level the playing field,” deflects a bullet with his skull . . . it’s pretty cool. When a Power dealer (Machine Gun Kelly) combusts, extinguishes, and reignites as he’s dunked in and out of a tub . . . it’s pretty cool. When another user (Jazzy De Lisser) turns to ice, breathes stalactites, and freezes everything in reach . . . it’s literally cool. The drug delivers to its users what the movie offers viewers in search of a substitute summer blockbuster: action, thrills, and spectacle.

But Power doesn’t come without consequences. Some don’t survive their first dose. Others transform into monsters, their extraordinary powers taxing their otherwise ordinary bodies. While Frank remains visibly unchanged, Power can turn him into a maniac, his temper rising to match his super strength. But the real problem with Power, in the film and in life, is who gets to wield it, and what that means for those who don’t. Art, aka “The Major” (Jamie Foxx), knows this first hand. A former Army Ranger, Art served as an early test subject for Power and now searches for his daughter, Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson), who has been kidnapped by the drug’s manufacturer after developing powers of her own without the help of a pill. “In the real world,” Art says, “power goes where it always goes: to the people who already have it.”

We see this sentiment illustrated a few ways in Project Power. First, in setting the story in New Orleans, the film conjures memories of Hurricane Katrina and its lasting impact on local businesses and residents, particularly those living in the city’s low-income Black communities. Many at the time criticized the federal and local response to the disaster, which left victims trudging through floodwaters, stranded on the rooftops of submerged homes, abandoned and permanently displaced. When Frank recalls “the last time we were counting on guys in suits to save New Orleans,” he voices the lingering distrust of those at the top.

The movie also harkens back to the story of Henrietta Lacks. In 1951, while Lacks underwent cancer treatment, doctors harvested cells from her body for the purpose (and profit) of medical advancement—without her consent or any compensation to her family. Like the Tuskegee experiments, Lack’s story has informed the strained relationship between the Black community and the United States healthcare system. The film’s revelation of Power’s insidious origins—and Tracy’s role in its production—suggests that it is still necessary to challenge systems of authority.

Power doesn’t come without consequences.

At its heart, Project Power is a David and Goliath story, subverting traditional concepts of strength and weakness. David’s victory, using only a slingshot and a stone, is typically used to highlight the potential of the underdog over insurmountable odds. But we often overlook how this confrontation is part of a larger indictment of King Saul, who, by this point, has displayed reckless leadership of his soldiers and lost favor with God after multiple acts of defiance. This is why David is tapped to replace Saul as king. And indeed, it’s Saul’s fear and refusal to fight Goliath in defense of his people—despite his own commanding stature and combat prowess—that sets the ground for David’s triumph in the first place. It goes to show that real power goes beyond the ability to dominate.

Which brings us back to Robin. Robin is a good kid who wishes she could simply “get good grades, go to school, [and] get to college.” But she needs money. So she sells Power to fund her uninsured mother’s healthcare (another nod to the disenfranchised). Robin never takes the drug herself and remains relatively normal in a city of superhumans. But according to Art, who confronts and then befriends Robin on his way up the Power supply chain, her normality is not the only thing that makes her vulnerable. “You’re young, you’re Black, you’re a woman,” he explains. “The system is designed to swallow you whole.” What she needs to do, he says, is tap into her own unique talents: “You gotta find out what you can do better than anybody else.”

Robin then proceeds to freestyle verses “off the head” using random words supplied by Art—from “feline” (“Feline / I’m ‘bout to make a b-line / And every single accolade for spittin’ / ‘Bout to be mine”) to “seismograph” (“Dude tryin’ to trip me up with his seismograph / I think it’s funny / I can’t pick a better time to laugh / I’ll find the path”). When Art throws out “antibiotics”—“My mom’s the proudest / I know that we can make it out if / We made it through a flood / I bet we gonna get through the drought and / I may be little / But in these waters / You won’t catch me drownin’”—she weaves her story of resilience with that of a battered New Orleans.

“That’s your power,” Art tells her, encouraging her to help others who’ve been abused or abandoned by those in charge. “You use your power to take the system down.” Robin’s compassion, selflessness, and bravery—all of which are advertised in her rhymes—are eventually delivered through her actions. It’s Robin who unites Art and Frank, who team up to bring Power’s production to a halt; it’s Robin who ultimately rescues Tracy from her captors and who, after all the explosive action, still manages to bring home soup for her sick mom, like she promised. Robin proves that heroism is a matter of character, not brute strength, and that—even without the aid of superpowers—she is more than equipped to save the day.

In the end, it’s not just about what the underdog can do, but what they should do when faced with any system that targets, exploits, or overlooks those in need. Like David, Robin isn’t powerful, but blessed—blessed by God to be charged with doing God’s work, which includes standing up to the strong on behalf of the weak. Both David’s story and Project Power show us that, under God’s eye, we are all capable of extraordinary things for the sake of others. That’s the difference between David and Saul in the Bible and what separates Robin from those in Project Power who are simply chasing a comic-book fantasy. Real heroes don’t worry about capes; they’re too busy carrying others on their backs.

Topics: Movies