I have elected to take a closer look at movies that deal with the ?ghetto? social institution. There have been several movies that attempt to depict the harshness of growing up in predominantly black urban neighborhoods. The three films that I have selected are what I believe to be the top three films in this genre. They are ?Boyz N Da Hood,? ?Menace to Society,? and ?Juice.? All of these films try to send a message about what it is like to live in ?da hood.?
The first film, “Boyz N Da Hood” marked the directorial debut of John Singleton, a gifted director. It seems as if he put his heart into making this film. There would be mixed emotions from many people about this film, but specifically you knew Singleton was trying to send a message about the low points, not really all points, of what went down in South Central back in the day.
It starts off with elementary kids going to school, and encountering a dead body in an alleyway. Already you’re somewhat shocked they aren’t crying for mommy or anything. This is different from Bel Air, though. The main character in the story Tre, gets into a fight and is sent home. According to a deal he made with his mom(Angela Bassett), if he got in one more fight, he has to go live with his pop(Lawrence Fishburne.)
His father lives elsewhere in south central. On his first day there Tre has to rake the lawn. He has friends, his best friend Dough Boy (Ice Cube), and Dough’s brother Chris. Dough tries to pick a fight with some big guy and gets whooped. Later that day Tre and his dad go fishing, talk about how Tre has to try to get out of the hood, do his best to be the best he can. They come back home and Dough Boy gets arrested.
We flash a few years ahead, Tre(Cuba Gooding Jr.) is now a senior, he’s best friend’s with Dough’s brother now. Dough Boy(Ice Cube) has just been released from prison. Tre is doing pretty good at school, has a girlfriend(Nia Long), and a nice car. Dough boy’s an afro centric gangbanger, drinking 40’s on the porch all day. Chris is a star football player with good chances of making it to the pros. They all try to get girls, drive their ‘whips’ down to Crenshaw and chill, and talk on the stoop. Things start coming to a boiling point, as a problem with Chris and a clique of Bloods heats up, Tre is becoming suppressed by the forces around him, and Dough maintains staying around trouble, banging and talking trash at Crenshaw. It comes to a predictable, yet heart felt ending.
This film did bring a truth about why it’s different living in the ghetto. From the jheri curls and Raiders cap Dough had, hanging out on Crenshaw, Fishburne’s theory of why there are no businesses in Compton (which is the white people put liquor stores on every corner so the people in the neighborhood so they become alcoholics), and the music, it represented nicely. Ice Cube had a brilliant performance, probably his best. Fishburne also did wonderful acting as the father who did his best to keep his son from dying on the streets. Singleton’s images on how blacks are living, his cinematography, is all excellent.
Although it did bring a pretty negative image of the inner city, “Boyz N Da Hood” does bring a close, in depth look at what it’s like. Unlike the Hip Hop flicks of today that are all excuses to put out good soundtracks with big name artists this wasn’t as shallow as what followed it. It gave everyone who saw it something to think about.
There was a period during the early to mid 90’s when black movie makers were making films that displayed the destructive mentality being bred by poverty and overtly disparate social conditions in low income black neighborhoods. This trend was set by the huge success of “Boys ‘N’ the Hood” which subsequent similar movies tried to mimic.
In a few cases their attempt to make America aware of something it turns its eyes away from, was successful. In others, what comes through is an action movie glorifying gangsters, drug dealers and murderers. Even with all of the small “messages” thrown into these movies for good measure, the hype and commercialization of the “ghetto lifestyle” is the main focus.
In the midst of the rash of these sorts of films, “Menace II Society” stands out simply because of quality and realism. The scene set in the Watts district of Los Angeles is pretty close to home as far as character and mannerisms. The two main characters Loc Dog and Cain pretty much accurately portray what you would expect of teenage knuckle heads influenced by hardcore gangsters a generation ahead of them.
Loc Dog struts around in tank tops and Khakis with his boxer shorts sticking out the back, a menacing furrowed brown and braids hanging in his face to further alienate his persona. Cain follows him around, wanting to be bad but with an apparent sense of whets right and wrong, hoping his foolish friend won’t pull him too far over the edge.
They get into a lot of trouble (the way they do in all of these types of movies) and the movie ends with the required “shocker” that meets the standard prerequisite for a movie about the hood. Even though I think this movie adheres to a few over used stereotypes, it was one of the first to use them and definitely well done.
Unfortunately in this world of rabid commercialism and the over all rule of monetary gain, the recipe for a good, informative movie can not be complete without a generous seasoning of sensationalism. These movies sometimes spend far too much time entertaining than informing and enlightening. Flashy cars, guns, promiscuous women, drugs, robberies etc. These sorts of things are made to look cool with wild camera angles, music and imagery while it is also supposedly being frowned upon in the same movie. In other words, the very same movie that is apparently making you aware of these societal detriments is glorifying them in order to keep you watching.
So what you come away with is an ambiguous lesson and a romantic, starry eyed view of how cool it is to be a gangster, riding in crome plated rims with a nine in yo’ waist and one of yo’ bitches in the passenger seat.
Back in the early 1980’s there was a lot of emphasis on young African-Americans in their teenage years. A lot of this emphasis was based on crime, house parties, sex, drugs and living in terrible urban public project dwellings. The definition of this is in this movie. “Juice”, is one of the best movies ever made. It was wonderfully written and brilliant.
This movie is mainly about four African-American teenage males living in an urban Brooklyn area and they are faced with the dilemma that most young minorities have to face today and that is growing up too fast. “Juice”, is about teenagers that are trying to earn respect by doing the wrong thing. When one does wrong it goes back and haunts all of them.
The late and great Tupac Shakur give a great performance on playing a character known as “Bishop”. He is faced with decisions of trying to survive on the mean streets of Brooklyn. Omar Epps plays “Q”, an aspiring disc jockey that always tries to do the right thing, but he gets caught up in the politics of hanging out with a crew. Khalil Khan plays “Raheem” who is the leader of the group and wants always make sure that the group does right, but he gets caught up as well. The format of the movie changes as the element of guns enter the picture.
All these movies did a wonderful job depicting life in the urban neighborhoods of the two biggest cities in the United States. Although, like I mentioned before, all the films glorified the flashy cars and the robberies, while they were trying to say it was wrong, I don?t feel people are going to watch these movies and go out and do the crime. After all, movies for the Silver Screen are made to make money, and unfortunately our society is drawn to the flashiness of the horrors of society. But overall, all the movies moved me in some way, and the all ended with the main characters coming to a realization that everything they did was wrong.