Sunday, 18 October 2009

Hollywood 'N The Hood

Perspectives on The Ghetto Action Movie, 1991-1996


Appendix A - The “Black Film Boom” of 1991
Appendix B - The ‘Hood Movie Cycle: 1991-1996
Appendix C - “All-Time Favorite Black American Films”


“… Hollywood is all about the QUICK Buck. So they’ll keep making the hood flicks and the yearly ‘Lawd I’m tired of being on welfare and po’, I just gotta git outta the ghetto’ flicks. And we’ll keep complaining…”[1]

The year 2000 would appear to have been a landmark one for African-Americans in popular film. The massive success of the high-concept comedies “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”[2] (Peter Segal, starring Eddie Murphy), and “Big Momma's House”[3] (Raja Gosnell, starring Martin Lawrence) seemed to indicate for the first time that the mass audience could accept the simultaneous existence of more than one high-profile Black comedian[4]. Heroic Black men struggled successfully against adversity in “Remember The Titans”[5] (Boaz Yakin, starring Denzel Washington) and “Men of Honor”[6] (George Tillman, Jr., starring Cuba Gooding Jr., with Robert De Niro). Furthermore, there were significant supporting roles for Black actors in such blockbuster hits as “Mission Impossible II” (John Woo, co-starring Ving Rhames), “Gladiator” (Ridley Scott, with Djimon Honsou), and “X-Men” (Bryan Singer, co-starring Halle Berry)[7].
If one removes films not made by Black directors from this list, only “Men Of Honor”, a fictionalised biography of the first African-American diver in the U.S. Navy, remains. Nevertheless, other Black-directed films also performed well at the American box-office in 2000. The horror spoof “Scary Movie”[8] (Keenen Ivory Wayans) became the first film by a Black director since Sidney Poitier's “Stir Crazy”[9] (1980) to gross more than $100,000,000. John Singleton's remake of “Shaft” made more than $70,000,000 domestically. Spike Lee had his greatest success for several years, both as a director with the low-budget ($3,000,000) comedy concert movie “The Original Kings Of Comedy”[10], and as producer of “Love And Basketball” (Gina Prince-Bythewood), which became the most successful film to date directed by an African-American woman[11]. This would appear to bear out his assertion in a 1999 article that, “never has there been a better time to be an African-American filmmaker”[12].
Lee went on, however, to berate Hollywood studios for making “only a certain type of black film”[13], and for their corporate employment policies: “There is no high-ranking African-American who can green-light a picture. But I can always count on my brother-man security guard to wave me through the studio gates.”[14] Nor did the African-American cinemagoer escape criticism. Referring to the poor box-office performance of such features as “Daughters Of The Dust”[15] (Julie Dash, 1992) and “Rosewood”[16] (John Singleton, 1997), Lee complains that “even when a black filmmaker tries to correct the record with a serious film, don't count on the fickle black audience to come”[17], having repeated the charge, made in an interview with Henry Louis Gates seven years earlier, that in respect of popular Black films, “their subject matter is basically limited to two genres: they're either comedies, or inner-city homeboy revues.”[18]
Lee was referring here to the so-called “Black Film Boom” of 1991, when, according to several sources[19], 19 Black-directed films were scheduled for release. Of those which actually appeared, only a handful, it has been suggested, “did not concentrate on the contemporary urban ghetto”[20]. It might be argued, however, that while Black comedians like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy had been crossover successes for several years[21], the commercial success of such non-comedic, Black-directed, ghetto-centred 1991 films as “Boyz 'N The Hood” (John Singleton), “New Jack City” (Melvin Van Peebles), and Lee's own “Jungle Fever”, marked the consolidation of the current phase of Black filmmaking; a phase during which, for the first time, a body of popular/populist work by Black filmmakers has accumulated which is sufficiently large to enable the long-standing debate about representation to become a debate about self-presentation.

Those films which followed Singleton's lead, in particular, in depicting the violence-ridden lives of young, working-class Black men in America's inner-cities, were dubbed “’hood” movies (the word “’hood” being an abbreviation both of “neighbourhood”, in African-American street parlance, and, more traditionally, “hoodlum”). Initially praising their social realism, critics soon seemed to weary of the 'hood-movies, as their perceived ubiquity and popularity raised fears that the problem of Black-on-Black violence was being commodified[22]. For the first time, the responsibility for any proliferation of negative imagery in popular film was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black artists.
In this dissertation, my aims are to contextualise the ‘hood-movies by briefly examining the troubled history of popular African-American film; to query Spike Lee's casual claim that the 'hood-movie constitutes a “genre”, by tracing its historical development, and analysing some of the most significant ghetto film texts in the light of the work of a number of film theorists; and to explore the extent to which, in a wider context, these films were perceived as problematic.

“People in America and abroad need a more balanced view of Black life. This concern is not new. It has been raised countless times…whether the white-controlled film industry is even capable of portraying the Black experience or wants to is another matter.”[23]

It was not until the 1970’s that historians such as Donald Bogle (author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks (1973)), Daniel Leab (From Sambo To Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures (1976)), and Thomas Cripps (Slow Fade To Black: The Negro In American Film (1977))[24] keen, perhaps, to find equivalents in film to the recently rediscovered figures of literature’s Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s (e.g. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston), began to uncover the history of Black American cinema. It is clear, both from their journalistic investigations, and from the more recent analytical work of theorists such as Gladstone Yearwood, Bell Hooks and Tommy Lott, that this history is a long and difficult one. Even if one leaves aside the lengthy tradition of films in which Black people were depicted in a demeaning manner by white producers and directors - including such historic works as D.W. Griffith's “The Birth Of A Nation” (1915) (“the first really ambitious American movie”[25], a Civil War melodrama which depicts a heroic Ku Klux Klan rescuing white damsels from sexually rapacious former slaves), and “Hallelujah!” (King Vidor, 1929) (the first feature-length musical of the sound era, which featured an all-Black cast, and whose “over-arching message is that Afro-Americans should stay on the farm and pick cotton”[26]) - films made by Black directors have proved a troublesome arena for scholars.
The most fundamental problem is a practical one. Several researchers[27] agree that America's first Black-directed film was “The Railroad Porter” (1912, one of four shorts produced by William Foster's Chicago-based company between 1910 and 1915), and that the first Black company to produce and distribute its own films was the Lincoln Motion Picture Company (begun by George Johnson and his actor brother Noble), the first of whose six films was 1916's “The Realisation Of A Negro's Ambition”. None of these works appears, however, to have survived. The same is true of “Birth Of A Race” (1918), which was explicitly conceived by members and supporters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) as a response to “The Birth Of A Nation”, and whose shambolic three-year production process resulted in a film which critics described as “a... rambling, falsely pious melange”, “a terrible waste”, and “cheap and uninteresting”[28], and which was little seen even at the time.
The oldest surviving Black-directed film would appear to be 1920's “Within Our Gates”, the second feature produced, directed, written and promoted by novelist, farmer and entrepreneur Oscar Micheaux[29] (his first having been “The Homesteader” (1919), which he decided to make himself, following unsuccessful negotiations with the Lincoln Company). While the film was controversial (scenes of lynching and attempted white-on-Black rape caused church leaders in Chicago to call for its banning[30]), the subsequent critical reception of Micheaux' body of work has centred on two issues which have proved worrisome for observers of Black film in all eras:- artistic quality and problematic political orientation.
Micheaux' entry in one film encyclopaedia refers to the “technical inferiority”[31] of his oeuvre (at least thirty films produced up until 1948), and Thomas Cripps (who was responsible for the rediscovery of much of his work) has referred both to his “one-take methods, unevenly talented casts, and jangling glitches”[32] and to his predilection for melodramatic effects (“the surprise switches in identity, the trick endings”[33]). J. Ronald Green[34], however, has attempted to explain the Micheaux style in terms of a counter-hegemonic rejection of glossy Hollywood values (although there seems little evidence that Micheaux was ever offered the opportunity to work with the major studios); and both Bell Hooks[35] and Jane Gaines[36] have defended his use of the melodramatic mode as a means of communicating complex ideas to a non-literate audience.
In terms of racial politics, however, even Micheaux' defenders have noted his preference for light-skinned Black actresses[37]; indeed, his 1938 film “God's Stepchildren” was picketed in New York and Boston, “because it slandered Negroes, holding them up to ridicule, playing light-skinned Negroes against their darker brothers.”[38] In addition, the fact that his films “dealt mainly with bourgeois-oriented themes: passing, the problems of the mulatto, the problems of the aspiring educated Black”[39] - even whilst providing an alternative, at least in the segregated cinemas of the South, and in urban centres elsewhere, to demoralising Hollywood stereotypes (“chorus girls, convicts, racetrack grooms, boxing trainers, and flippant servants”[40]) - began to rankle with the Black leftist intelligentsia, concerned that “Black Films Should Tell The Truth”[41], and perhaps hostile to Micheaux' brand of capitalist individualism.
The tension between critics anxious that cinematic entertainments should provide positive political messages, and filmmakers keen to earn a living is a recurring theme in Black film history, the concern in the Micheaux era being the prevalence of low-quality copies of Hollywood formula films, leavened with musical set-pieces. Clyde Taylor quotes an unnamed Black journalist's plea to the audience to “support these films, even if it hurts”[42], in the hope of eventually building a more worthwhile product. Nevertheless, this first phase of Black cinema ended after World War II, as desegregation and Black migration (South to North, rural to urban areas) dealt the largely white-owned “Black” cinemas a fatal blow, and mainstream Hollywood began to display more ostensibly enlightened racial attitudes, as evidenced by such films as “Home Of The Brave” (Mark Robson, 1949 – the story of a traumatised Black soldier), and the rise of screen icon Sidney Poitier. Subsequent scholars have sought to reclaim only a handful of those films produced during the Race Movie era (e.g. Micheaux' “Body And Soul” (1924), starring Paul Robeson; and the religious fable “The Blood Of Jesus” (Spencer Williams, 1941)[43]).

The second broad phase in the history of popular Black film began in 1969 when Warner Brothers became the first major Hollywood studio to hire an African-American director - Gordon Parks, a veteran photographer for Life magazine. The film was “The Learning Tree”, a rites-of-passage drama set in Kansas, and adapted by Parks (who also composed the score), from his own semi-autobiographical novel. It was Parks' second film, however, “Shaft” (1971), along with the adaptation of Chester Himes' novel “Cotton Comes To Harlem” (Ossie Davies, 1970), and “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song” (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971), whose commercial success laid the foundations for the Black Exploitation (“Blaxploitation”) cycle of the 1970's.
Amongst the factors[44] which contributed to the birth of Blaxploitation was the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, which was accompanied by an aesthetic renaissance, consisting of an increasingly militant and vocal Black Arts Movement[45], one of whose most notable alumni was the writer Amiri Baraka. This coincided with the film industry's belated realisation, at a time when theatrical attendances were approaching an all-time low[46] that up to one third of people who still attended cinemas were Black[47]. Sidney Poitier had single-handedly (or tokenistically) altered hegemonic perceptions over a twenty-year period, to the extent of having become the highest-grossing box-office star of 1968 (largely due to his almost self-parodic[48] portrayal in “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner” (Stanley Kramer, 1967) of an internationally eminent doctor, who might be considered to have been seeking to marry beneath himself in his courting of the daughter of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, were it not for his race). A Black audience stung by the assassination of Martin Luther King, and increasingly uncomfortable with Poitier's polite, bourgeois persona[49] now demanded a new kind of screen hero: “a black, urban, poor male striking back at a system which had denied him basic rights and respect.”[50]
“Sweetback”, whose massive underground success[51] suggests that it suited audience requirements, is about a sex-show performer who beats up two policemen who are brutalising a young Black activist, and then goes on the run, experiencing a sexual odyssey as he escapes to the Mexican border, being protected along the way by representatives of various disenfranchised groups (e.g. Black communities, prostitutes, bikers, hippies, homosexuals). It was described as “the purest Black film, in terms of esthetics, that has yet been made - a shriek of pain that is also an object lesson in Black survival in America”[52], and according to author Toni Cade Bambara “in the Black community it was both hailed and denounced for its sexual rawness, its macho hero, and its depiction of the community as downpressed and in need of rescue”[53]. With its psychedelic visuals, hypnotically repetitive score (by Earth, Wind and Fire), and virtual plotlessness, Van Peebles' ultra-low-budget ($150,000) third film[54] seems as influenced by hippy road-movie “Easy Rider” (Dennis Hopper, 1969) as by the militant surrealism of poets like Baraka.
Unlike “Sweetback”, which its director (like Micheaux) distributed and promoted himself, “Shaft” was a Hollywood project, adapted by white crime novelist Ernest Tidyman from his own book[55], and financed to the tune of $1.5 million by M.G.M. Becoming the 12th highest grossing film of 1971[56], it is commonly reckoned to have saved the studio from bankruptcy[57]; and won Isaac Hayes an Academy Award for its theme song (as well as a nomination for the score). Starring former male model Richard Roundtree as an arrogant, $50-per-hour private detective who manages to successfully play the Mafia, Black militants, and the police off against one another, the title character achieved mainstream movie firsts by both flagrantly violating the inter-racial sex taboo, and being able to “talk back to the Man and get away with it”[58] - thus “a new kind of hero entered Hollywood's palette”[59].
As Tommy Lott puts it, “black heroic violence against white villains rapidly became a Hollywood commodity and literally dozens of films were produced for Black audiences that capitalized on this new formula”[60]. Almost immediately, however, said formula began to coarsen. “Shaft's Big Score” (Gordon Parks Sr., 1972) was, I would argue, technically and thematically cruder than its predecessor, with the Italian gangsters self-parodic, the Black gangsters comical, and considerable gratuitous female nudity in evidence. Meanwhile, the hero of “Superfly” (1972), directed by Parks' son, Gordon Jr., was an unrepentant pimp and drug-dealer/user. It was this low-budget entertainment[61], rather than either “Shaft” or “Sweetback”, which seems to have set the pattern for the bulk of the Blaxploitation films which followed, providing dubious role models for Black audiences[62], and comfort for Caucasian viewers in the obvious 'otherness' of the white villains (i.e. as Mafiosi, or obviously corrupt cops), and the consequent implication that racism was an individual rather than an institutional matter.
Henceforward, the bulk of “Black” movies[63], with a few honourable exceptions (e.g. the politically audacious “The Spook Who Sat By The Door” (Ivan Dixon, 1973), about a token Black C.I.A. operative who uses his skills to train militants; “Ganja And Hess” (Bill Gunn, 1973), an exploration of African vampire myths, which was never released in its original form[64]), were Black-cast re-workings of tried-and-tested Hollywood formula films. Furthermore, the majority were low-budget[65] efforts by white directors, whether they be jobbing Hollywood veterans[66] or younger exploitation specialists[67]. More serious-minded filmmakers of the contemporaneous “movie-brat” generation tended to steer clear - Martin Scorsese, for example, turned down an offer from producer Roger Corman to rewrite the script which eventually became “Mean Streets” (1973) for a Black cast[68].
As early as 1972, white critics like Pauline Kael were condemning Blaxploitation films as cynical and racist[69], and there was a high profile campaign against them by the N.A.A.C.P.[70], and various eminent African-Americans (e.g. psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, whose article, “Cheap Thrills That Degrade Blacks”, was published in the popular journal Psychology Today in February 1974[71]). Those Black artists who were profiting, however defended them: actor-comedian Richard Pryor, for example, said in 1973, “You know, we used to pick cotton... Well, now we are making movies. Same thing. I call them pickin'-cotton movies, but they pay the bills”; and actress Pam Grier argued in 1996 that “a lot of films today are about victims, but most of the films then were about empowerment”[72].
The end of the Blaxploitation era was less attributable to political objections, however, than to the film industry's realisation, as a new wave of blockbusters such as “The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), and “The Exorcist” (William Friedkin, 1973) began to draw the mass audience back to the cinema, that the proportion of said audience which was Black remained constant despite a lack of Black representation in these films. It thus became clear that “African-Americans on screen were not needed to bring African-Americans into movie theaters.”[73]

The “Race Movie” phase, then, of African-American film can be said to have been characterised by a high degree of Black creative control, and a low profile within the larger film-going community; and the “Blaxploitation” phase by a relatively small degree of Black control, and high national (and international) visibility. Much of the output during both periods, however, was subject to harsh criticism in terms of both politics and quality. Furthermore, both phases ended when changes within the Hollywood system rendered their product surplus to requirements, leading to the cherry-picking of marketable on-screen talent – e.g. Lena Horne in the 1940's, and Richard Pryor in the 1970's - and the further marginalisation of the filmmakers themselves.
It is generally accepted[74] that the third, current phase of Black filmmaking began in the mid-1980's. The blockbuster-led revival of the industry, the development of large numbers of multi-screen cinemas hungry for product, the rise of a new breed of independent distributor, and the promise of an extended life on video for a wide range of films provided a commercial context[75] which contributed to the success of Spike Lee's post-feminist sex-comedy/drama “She's Gotta Have It” (1986; budget: $175,000; domestic gross: $8 million[76]), and actor-director Robert Townsend's heartfelt satire on racial stereotyping in the film industry, “Hollywood Shuffle” (1987; budget: $100,000; domestic gross: $7 million). Thus, for the first time, Black-themed, Black-controlled projects found themselves able to reach a national, multi-racial audience. Independence from the mainstream industry, however, entailed the kind of budgetary restraint (the average cost of a Hollywood film at the time being around $12 million[77]) which was evident in the poor sound and picture quality exhibited by both films, as well as in both directors’ extensive use of clearly inexperienced actors, and inexpensive techniques such as monologues to camera.
In contrast, Lee's second film, the lavish, Black-college-set musical “School Daze” (1988) was financed (at $6.5 million) by a Hollywood studio (Columbia) going on, despite limited corporate support[78], to gross $14.5 million. It was, however, the $27.5 million domestic box-office take of his third film (produced, also on a budget of $6.5 million, by Universal), detailing the events leading to a small-scale race riot in a largely Black neighbourhood in New York, which prompted Hollywood decision-makers to invest in more Black filmmakers, according to industry insiders such as veteran Black director Michael Schultz (“Car Wash”, 1976): 'I think it wasn't until they saw the reaction to Spike [Lee]'s “Do the Right Thing”[1989] that the white folks who sit up in those offices and have the power to green-light films said, “O.K. Let's go out and find our Black 'flavor of the month' and get on this bandwagon because it's real.”'[79]
Hollywood might be said to have subverted the first wave of Black film through the hegemonic commodification of middle-class liberalism and Black musicality, and the second by rendering certain manifestations of Black radicalism and sexuality unthreatening and marketable. In its early stages at least, the filmmakers of the third phase came to be perceived as being complicit in another potentially damaging project:- the commercial exploitation of urban strife, as the stories told by Lee and other African-American producers, writers and directors seemed to coalesce into a new Hollywood genre - the 'Hood Movie.

“The story is told of two Columbia executives visiting the set of [John] Singleton’s new film, Poetic Justice: ‘Executive 1: Did you see Boyz ‘N The Hood? Executive 2: No, but I saw New Jack City.’”[80]

Jim Hillier uses this anecdote not only to lampoon the proverbial ignorance of Hollywood executives (while “Boyz ‘N The Hood” was a Columbia Pictures production, “New Jack City” was made by a rival studio, Warner Brothers; and furthermore, as we shall see, the two films were markedly different), but also to indicate the extent to which the “Black Film Boom” of 1991 occurred amidst fears that Black cinema was once more being viewed within the industry as a monolithic entity. It was only as this third phase progressed that generic distinctions within the popular Black-directed oeuvre began to emerge. While many of these films simply situated Black elements within traditional Hollywood formulae such as the romantic comedy[81], or the police procedural[82], it might be argued that “Boyz ‘N The Hood” gave birth to a new genre (or sub-genre, or cycle), whose existence suggested, at least in its early stages, that social realism and the commercial imperative could co-exist.

Spike Lee’s dismissive claim that those Black-directed films - perhaps fewer than anticipated - which actually found their way into cinemas in 1991 were “either comedies, or inner-city homeboy revues”[83] is not entirely accurate[84]. It does seem clear, however, that the March opening of “New Jack City” (Mario Van Peebles, 1991, Warner Brothers) raised the media profile of Black filmmaking[85] not only because of its immediate commercial success (it made $7 million on its first weekend, going on to gross almost $48 million in all, becoming the 25th most successful film of 1991 in the U.S.), but also because of the riots and shootings which affected a number of the cinemas showing it[86]. The July debut of “Boyz ‘N The Hood” (John Singleton, 1991, Columbia) was similarly marked by violence; nevertheless, it went on to gross over $56 million domestically (having cost $6.5 million to make), becoming the 22nd highest grossing film of the year in the U.S., and the most successful by a Black director. Another film set amongst ghetto youths was the low-budget ($100,000) “Straight Out Of Brooklyn” (Matty Rich, 1991, Samuel Goldwyn Company), which opened in May, but which only received limited, art-house distribution (it eventually grossed $2.7 million, peaking on 75 cinemas nationwide in its 7th week of release, in contrast with 917 for “Boyz”[87]). Also scheduled for release that year[88] was “Juice” (Ernest Dickerson, 1992, distributed by Paramount, but produced by British company Island World), which did not actually open until January 1992. It was the publicity accorded to these films, and their common features (“rap, youth, urban catharsis”[89]), which gave rise to the fear that the New Black cinema might simply develop into an updated form of Blaxploitation, presenting ghetto pathology as entertainment.

“New Jack City”, directed by the son of the writer-director-star of “Sweetback”, tells the story of the rise and fall of a style-conscious, “crack”-cocaine-dealing gangster, Nino Brown (played by Wesley Snipes), and owes much to trademark Warner Brothers features of an earlier era, such as “Little Caesar” (Mervyn LeRoy, 1930, starring Edward G. Robinson) and “Scarface” (Howard Hawks, 1932, starring Paul Muni). Indeed the remake of the latter (Brian DePalma, 1983) is explicitly referenced (Brown frequently impersonates Al Pacino’s lead character, Tony Montana; in one scene, he watches the film on a large screen while a semi-clad woman dances in front of it; Brown’s downfall, like Montana’s, is attributable to sexual jealousy). Despite the occasional and clumsy political sloganising (“You have to rob to get rich in the Reagan era”, says Brown), it is very much an action-adventure movie, focusing as much on the multi-ethnic (Black, Italian, Korean) team of maverick cops recruited to take on the drug-dealers as on the yuppie gang themselves (the self-styled “Cash Money Brothers”), and full of carefully choreographed shoot-outs and chases of the type which showcase the television-trained Van Peebles’ ability to make the most of a relatively small budget ($8.5 million[90]).
In contrast, both “Boyz ‘N The Hood” and “Juice” are about unsophisticated youths struggling to survive in a violent milieu, and it is these films which I propose to consider in the context of “the ‘hood-movie as genre”, because of their mainstream commercial success (“Juice” having grossed $20 million, on a budget of $3 million[91]), and the fact that they appeared independently of one another, at approximately the same time (along with the comparable “Straight Out Of Brooklyn”). The third film on which I will base my discussion is “Menace II Society” (Allen & Albert Hughes, 1993, New Line), which was one of the most popular (having earned almost $28 million, on a budget of $3.5 million[92]) and controversial of the films which directly owe their existence to the success of “Boyz”. As well as low budgets, the films also shared the distinction of allowing Black directors to make their feature debuts: Singleton, then 23, whose only previous experience with a camera was on academic projects at the University of Southern California, where he was on the screenwriting program, only agreed to sell his student-award-winning script to Columbia on the condition that he was allowed to direct[93]; Dickerson was Spike Lee’s regular cinematographer; the Hughes twins, despite their youth (20, at the time of shooting) were experienced directors of music videos[94]). Furthermore, all three featured significant acting roles for rap artists (as did “New Jack City” in which Ice T played a police officer[95]), thus cementing the link between this film-cycle and the music industry.

The concept of genre in film has, of course, exercised the minds of scholars for a number of decades[96]. In respect of the relationship between Black filmmakers, Hollywood decision-makers and the popular audience, its importance rests on the potential ease with which an individual film (e.g. “Boyz ‘N The Hood”) might have its political impact diluted as it is subjected, in the terms used by Steve Neale, to the “processes of systematisation”[97] which entail the repetition and exploitation of saleable components contained therein. Judith Hess Wright took a lead from Theodor Adorno in suggesting that generic cinema is designed to minimise the possibility of social revolt amongst audiences by pacifying them with “absurd solutions to economic and social conflicts”[98]. While the ‘hood films do not display the characteristics of the genres she was discussing (i.e. non-acknowledgement of current socio-political problems, being set in the past, the action occurring in isolation from wider society), it might still be argued that Hollywood’s conversion of what might be regarded as an individual statement[99] into a commercial franchise could “assist in the maintenance of the existing political structure”[100], by facilitating the implication, as critic Amy Taubin puts it, “that the threat to America is ghettoised, that it can be policed and locked away (as long as the invading third world hordes are kept at bay)”[101].
Rick Altman[102] suggests that genre theories have traditionally belonged to one of two categories: “semantic”, focusing on features which are common to various groups of films (e.g. Marc Vernet’s itemisation of those elements which occur within westerns), or “syntactic”, looking at the wider relationships which the use of such elements illustrates (e.g. John Cawelti’s concept of the western as occurring on the frontier separating civilisation from wilderness). Amongst those theorists who have sought to reconcile these strands is Thomas Schatz, who hypothesizes that “the determining, identifying feature of a film genre is its cultural context, its community of interrelated character types whose attitudes, values and actions flesh out dramatic conflicts inherent within that community. The generic community is less a specific place (although it may be, as with the Western and gangster genres) than a network of characters, actions, values and attitudes.”[103]
It certainly appears to be the case that the action of “Boyz”, “Juice” and “Menace” takes place within a certain “generic community”, i.e. the impoverished, drug-ridden, inner-city ghetto (situated in Los Angeles in the case of Singleton’s and the Hughes brothers films, and New York in Dickerson’s). This community is one which is incessantly overflown by police helicopters, where guns are readily available, and where one might be brutally murdered by drive-by shootists at any moment; thus, the on-screen caption with which “Boyz” begins reads: “One out of every 21 black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another black male.” This is a context where the cultivation of an ethic of self-preservation (whether through the use of fire-arms, involvement in small-scale criminal capitalism, or the development of an effective escape strategy) is the only alternative to pharmaceutically induced inertia. An essential component of the community is the ever-present rap music which is constantly blasting out from cars, houses and portable stereos - it is perhaps important to note that, leaving aside the opening and closing credits of the three films, virtually all of the rap heard (as opposed to the ballads and standard instrumental soundtrack music) is diegetic (the sole exception being during a scene in “Menace”, where crack cocaine is shown being prepared, to the accompaniment of N.W.A.’s (Niggas With Attitude) “Dopeman”). This links the ‘hood-movies to “a tradition of Black films which show Black people using music, going back to pick it up when they need it, making it part of politics as well as, inseparably from, culture”[104], as well as to the Hollywood marketing machine, the soundtrack albums from all three films having sold well[105].
The “interrelated character-types” include, in each case, the hero/anti-hero and his close-knit group of adolescent friends, some of whom at least are involved in criminal activity, and not all of whom will survive beyond the final credits - i.e. Tre Styles (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), with Ricky, Doughboy (rapper Ice Cube) and Chris in “Boyz”; Q (Omar Epps”), with Bishop (rapper Tupac Shakur), Steel and Raheem in “Juice”; Caine (Tyrin Turner), with O-Dog (Larenz Tate), Sharif, Stacy, and A-Wax (MC Eiht of rap group Compton’s Most Wanted) in “Menace”. Also to be found are isolated redemptive females[106], providing the central character’s only hope of romantic love in a world where young women are routinely referred to (and characterised) as “ho’s” (whores) and “bitches”[107]; idealised father figures[108]; the potentially murderous and largely anonymous members of other gangs; small boys who are exposed to gang violence[109]; hostile members of the police force, at least one of whom is Black[110]; and various sketchily-glimpsed, unsympathetic white civilians[111].
Despite these similarities, each film is structured differently, following patterns familiar from older genres. “Boyz”, for example, tells the semi-autobiographical story[112] of its central character’s journey from childhood, through the loss both of his virginity (belatedly, in his social circle) and his two best friends, to his decisive rejection of violence, and successful university application (to Morehouse College in Georgia, Spike Lee’s alma mater - an apparent tribute); it is a classic rites-of-passage tale. “Juice”, the only one of the three films which closely follows the classic Hollywood three-act structure (“first act, cosy; second act, despair; third act, redemption and transfiguration”[113]) develops from a slice-of-life look at the lives of four truants on the fringes of criminality, into a noir-ish thriller, as a small-scale hold-up goes wrong, and the hot-headed Bishop turns into a near-superhuman cold-blooded killer, whom Q must defeat. “Menace”, shot in a heightened documentary style (“We wanted it do be a sort of docudrama.”[114]), with a constantly moving camera, is the story of a violent summer, narrated by Caine, which starts with O-Dog’s killing of a pair of Korean convenience-store owners (“Went into the store, just to get a beer. Came out an accessory to murder and armed robbery. It was funny like that in the hood sometimes”, says Caine), depicts a series of further shootings and beatings, and ends with the principals involved in a sidewalk gun-battle, just as they (with the exception of the irredeemable O-Dog) are preparing to move on, both geographically and emotionally.
Nevertheless, the dramatic conflicts inherent to the ‘hood-movie community are similar in all three cases. As well as having to cope with the fact that other Black youths within their social orbit may well decide to kill them for no particular reason, the central characters must also struggle to find means of making their way in the potentially hostile White world beyond the ‘hood, surrounded as they are by examples of the consequences of a failure to do so. In “Boyz”, for example, both Tre and Ricky are working towards university scholarships; while in “Juice”, Q is shown to be an accomplished club DJ; the central characters in “Menace” however, seems to have no concrete plans beyond abandoning L.A. for, variously, Atlanta and Kansas. Perhaps the most significant conflicts are internal ones, occurring within those characters who struggle to move away from violence; a struggle which not all of them survive.

Consideration of these films in terms of Schatz’s theory, then, appears to provide evidence that they share sufficient common features to justify their being discussed in generic terms. In earlier writings, Schatz also suggested that, in common with other art-forms, “film genres inevitably move through four distinct stages of development: experimental (the early, exploratory phase), classic (the period where style and conventions have become known and accepted by the audience), refinement (the phase in which elaborations and complications arise in the basic structures), and baroque (where the material becomes self-conscious, possibly self critical).”[115] While the application of this model to genres such as the Western might be complicated (and perhaps invalidated) by their longevity and by the cyclical nature of commercial film production[116], it could be argued that the ‘hood-movie, with its apparently finite history, provides a potentially elucidatory case-study in genre development.
Genres such as film noir owed their initial existence not only to events in the wider world, but also to the popularity of works in other media - Paul Schrader, for example, linked the development of that particular genre not only to a post-World War II malaise, but also to the pulp novels of such authors as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain[117]. It could be similarly argued that the ‘hood-movie owed a great deal to the notoriety and commercial success, from 1987 onwards, of gangster (‘gangsta’) rap artists such as Ice T, N.W.A. (featuring Ice Cube) and Public Enemy, whose harsh narratives depicting life in Black ghettos under Reaganite economic policies, found favour with audiences of all races[118]. Gang violence was also high on the news agenda, being the subject of a highly publicised TV news special in 1988, which focused on the situation in South Central Los Angeles[119].
It was this context into which the film “Colors” (Dennis Hopper, 1988) was released. The story of two heroic white cops (played by Sean Penn and Robert Duvall) whose time is spent combating the L.A. gangs, the title song of its successful[120], rap-oriented soundtrack was written and performed by Ice T, and it was the 21st most popular film of its year in the U.S., earning $46.6 million. Also “experimental”, in terms of the birth of the ‘hood-movie genre, was Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”, with its $27.5 million box-office take, two Academy Award nominations (for Lee’s screenplay, and Danny Aiello’s portrayal of an Italian-American pizzeria-owner at the centre of racial conflict), and soundtrack dominated by the specially commissioned[121] track “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy. Urban strife was largely absent from Reginald Hudlin’s comedy “House Party” (1990), but its rap soundtrack, the portrayal of ghetto youths by a cast containing both experienced actors and recording artists, and commercial success on a low budget (grossing $28 million, costing $2.5 million, produced by independent New Line) suggest that it, too was a significant fore-runner of the ‘hood-movie cycle.
While it is the case that “Boyz ‘N The Hood” contained elements familiar from all three of these films, Singleton himself cited three different works as direct influences: “‘Pixote’ [Hector Babenco, 1981 - a hard-hitting tale about children living on the streets of Rio De Janeiro] has the kids who are disenfranchised. ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ [Sergio Leone, 1984] starts with the kids. And ‘American Graffiti’ [George Lucas, 1973] has all of the music.”[122] Its status as a “classic” was signalled not only by contemporaneous reviews (e.g. from Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: “not simply a brilliant directorial debut, but an American film of enormous importance”[123]; and David Ansen in Newsweek: “It's an American coming-of-age story told from a new, black perspective… Singleton's powerhouse movie has the impact of a stun gun.”[124]) but also by Singleton’s subsequent nomination for two Academy Awards as director (the only Black filmmaker to date to be so honoured) and screenwriter. Perhaps a more reliable index is the extent to which subsequent ‘hood-movies, particularly “Menace”, were assessed with reference to “Boyz ‘N The Hood” by film-reviewers (e.g. “This movie is easily summed up: It's a putrid rip-off of 1992's [sic] ‘Boyz ‘N The Hood’”[125]; “Though the Hughes Brothers’ film may at first sound like a ‘Boyz ‘N the Hood’ knock-off, the film stands on its own two feet by virtue of its sheer relentlessness”[126]). The Cineaste reviewer argued that “borrowing many narrative conventions from John Singleton's ‘Boyz ‘N the Hood’ most specifically, ‘Menace II Society’ concerns itself with similar topics, in a similar milieu, but attempts to take its story one step further”[127].
I would argue that Schatz’s theory was accurate in suggesting that films of the next, “refinement” phase would see these conventions modified in order to tell stories of greater complexity, and with a different thematic focus. John Singleton’s second film, for example, “Poetic Justice” (1993)[128], while still set in South Central L.A., and commencing with the murder of a Black youth, focuses on his grief-stricken, poetry-writing girlfriend, Justice (played by Janet Jackson, in her first big-screen role, with verse supplied by Maya Angelou). In this “Afrocentric street romance”[129], taking the form of a road-movie, many elements familiar from “Boyz” remain (e.g. rap music, crack-addiction, frequent use of the “Oedipal pejorative”), but the central narrative concerns the slow softening of Justice’s heart towards a young man, Lucky (played by Tupac Shakur, of “Juice”). Both of the main protagonists have ordinary jobs – Lucky is a mailman[130] and Justice a beautician - and a wider range of characters is presented (albeit briefly), like Justice’s strong female boss (played by Tyra Ferrell), her gay work-colleague (played by Roger Guenveur Smith), and a matriarch (played by Angelou) whom they meet up with whilst gatecrashing a large family reunion, as they make a work-related road-trip to and from Oakland – a journey whose end coincides with the L.A. riots of 1992[131]. Other refinements were apparent in “Jason’s Lyric” (Doug McHenry, 1994)[132], for example, whose central character, TV salesman Jason (Allen Payne, of “New Jack City), in common with other ‘hood heroes, struggles both to combat violence in his community and family (attempting to keep his alcoholic, criminally-oriented younger brother, Joshua from the influence of gang-leader Alonzo[133]), and to build a successful romantic relationship (with a waitress, Lyric (Jada Pinkett)). Notably, however, the film is set in semi-rural Texas rather than either New York or Los Angeles, and has a soundtrack which favours blues over rap[134]; furthermore, Jason’s problems seem to be more psychological (rooted in the circumstances surrounding the violent death of his father (played by Forest Whitaker) several years before), than economic.
The final, self-reflexive, self-critical phase of the ‘hood-movie genre could be said to have been represented by “Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood” (Paris Barclay, 1996, written by and starring the same members of the Wayans family who were later responsible for “Scary Movie” (Keenen Ivory Wayans, 2000)) which, as the title suggests, was a spoof which specifically targeted films of the “classic” phase (those previously mentioned, as well as “South Central” (Steve Anderson, 1992)), to the extent that, as one reviewer put it, “if you haven’t seen ‘Menace II Society’ and ‘Boyz ‘N The Hood’, you’ll miss 80 percent of the fun.”[135] Released at the beginning of 1996, it was, however, followed, towards the end of the year, by “Set It Off” (F. Gary Gray, 1996), whose critique of male-oriented ‘hood-movies was intrinsic, in that the central gang, driven to crime, was an all-female one, consisting of Frankie, a bank-teller fired after it becomes clear that a would-be robber was known to her; Stony (Jada Pinkett), whose college-bound brother has been mistakenly shot by police; struggling single mother Tisean; and the pugnacious Cleo (rapper Queen Latifah). It seems ironic that “Set It Off”, perhaps the final entry in the cycle, was the most successful of the post-1991 ‘hood films at the U.S. box-office (earning $36 million). It would appear, however, to have been consciously constructed as a cross-generic, polysemic product, capitalising on the unexpected success, at the beginning of the year, of middle-class Black female-bonding film “Waiting To Exhale” (Forest Whittaker, 1995), and combining elements of the heist-movie (as the women become bank-robbers), and the “yuppie” romance (as Stony takes up with a suave banker) with implicit condemnations of sexual exploitation (Stony is persuaded to sleep with a local used-car-dealer in exchange for a “cash advance”) and homophobia (Cleo being an “out” lesbian), whilst retaining the requisite rap soundtrack and action sequences. There is even a nod to the sensibilities of the Caucasian audience, in that the principal white detective becomes a sympathetic character.
Schatz theorizes that “a genre's basic cultural oppositions or inherent dramatic conflicts represent its most basic determining feature. Also, the sustained popularity of any genre indicates the essentially unresolvable, irreconcilable nature of those oppositions.”[136] The fact that the ‘hood-movie cycle only lasted a few years suggests that the oppositions depicted (e.g. between working-class Black youths and an uncaring political/legal/financial establishment) were not entirely irreconcilable, in that many of the problems presented, particularly in “Boyz ‘N The Hood”, were specific socio-political ones, to which the potential answers (e.g. affirmative action, gun-control, improved education, welfare reform, encouragement of self-help programs, economic regeneration of poor communities) had long been a matter for public debate; indeed, a Newsweek cover story of July 1999[137] suggests that the economic upturn which started in 1991, and was largely presided over by a Democrat administration, was substantially responsible for a new optimism within Black America. Thus, while drugs, violence and unemployment continued to plague ghetto communities, the issue lost its currency as the perception grew that these were not exclusively Black problems, and that Black youths were no longer without options. It also appears to be the case that African-American filmmakers began to find the ‘hood-movie form repetitive and constricting:- Spike Lee reports that he directed “Clockers” (1995 - the adaptation of a crime novel, by white author Richard Price, set amongst young Black crack-dealers) reluctantly, at the behest of co-producer Martin Scorsese: “I did not want to further contribute to the genre. It is not the total expression of our experience in this country, and it has been beat to death… in doing Clockers, we hoped that we would execute what we wanted to say so well that it would be like the final nail in the coffin”[138]; the film was not a great commercial success[139].

In terms of shared features, then, and a fairly predictable pattern of historical development, the ‘hood-movies would appear to constitute a genre. When compared, for example, with the Western, however, whose mythic resonance in an American context has provoked a great deal of scholarly work[140], and which is as old as commercial cinema itself[141], its status is more questionable. It may well be that the ghetto narrative as manifested in cinema has more in common with other short-lived “genres” such as, for example, the star-studded disaster movie cycle of the early 1970’s. This also began with an unexpected box-office success (i.e. “Airport” (George Seaton, 1969), the highest-grossing film of 1970[142]), which was succeeded by further not dissimilar hits (e.g. “The Poseidon Adventure”[143] (Ronald Neame, 1972) and “The Towering Inferno”[144] (John Guillermin, 1974)). Similarly, it too was seen as reflective of contemporary social and political problems (e.g. declining faith in institutions at the time of the Vietnam War and Watergate[145]).
Comparisons between the central protagonists of ‘hood-movies, and the heroes of another genre, the “classical” gangster film, are even more compelling. Robert Warshow, writing in the 1950’s, describes the gangster as “graceful, moving like a dancer among the crowded dangers of the city”[146]; and it has already been noted that not only do ‘hood-movie heroes carry their musical soundtracks with them, but that many of the actors who play them are themselves dance-oriented musicians (indeed, like James Cagney and George Raft, Wesley Snipes of “New Jack City” began his show-business career as a dancer). Warshow’s contention that the vintage gangster is “lonely and melancholy not because life ultimately demands such feelings but because he has put himself in a position where everybody wants to kill him and eventually somebody will” [147] is perhaps poignant in the ‘hood-movie context because the youths portrayed are seen as having little choice with reference to the position they are in. Similarly, his suggestion that “the gangster is the ‘no’ to that great American ‘yes’ which is stamped so big over our official culture” [148] might be seen as ironic, given the limited access which the ‘hood-movie characters have to the “American Dream”, and the negativity provoked by their surroundings[149]. “He is wide open and defenceless”, writes Warshow, “incomplete because unable to accept any limits or come to terms with his own nature, fearful, loveless”[150]; and indeed, it is notable that the most negativistic of the ‘hood anti-heroes (Doughboy in “Boyz”, Bishop in “Juice”, O-Dog in “Menace”) are seen not to be in sexual relationships, although the apparent dearth of childless, non-crack-addicted, non-acquisitive females in the ‘hood may be factors which are as significant in this regard as the individuals’ recognition of their own physical vulnerability. The fate of Warshow’s “classical” gangster is cathartic: “…in his death he ‘pays’ for our fantasies, releasing us momentarily both from the concept of success, which he denies by caricaturing it, and from the need to succeed, which he shows to be dangerous”[151]; the deaths of those characters in the ‘hood-movies whom the filmmakers have allowed us to come to know, however, serve to remind the audience of that segment of society for whom “success” consists merely of survival.
It is this sense of fatalism which has led author Foster Hirsch to argue that ‘hood-movies exist as a sub-category of another genre: neo-noir. In his book, Detours and Lost Highways[152], he advances the thesis that the mood of classic film noir of the 1940’s and 1950’s – “cynicism, pessimism and darkness”[153] – has been carried on through a number of subsequent cycles, including the early 1990’s ‘hood-movies[154]. While he is occasionally guilty of over-stating his case (for example, he describes the relatively innocent house-party which forms the backdrop for the climactic chase in “Juice” in terms of “a crack house, with drugged people dancing to rap in smoke-filled dens of Stygian darkness”[155]), his assertion that “the films repeatedly argue that blackness in white America predestines a life of violence and crime”[156] seems to effectively link the youths portrayed in ghetto narratives to the ill-fated anti-heroes of classic noirs (e.g. John Garfield in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Tay Garnett, 1946), Robert Mitchum in “Out Of The Past” (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)). He does, however, point out the obvious distinctions, such as the fact that the violence in the ‘hood-movies often takes place in “sunny open spaces”[157] rather than exclusively amongst the dark shadows which characterise vintage noir; he also notes that the paranoia evoked in the ghetto films of the 1990’s has its roots in urban reality rather than the tragic/romantic artistic impulse: “Boyz is not a retro project awash in nostalgia… rather, it uses a noir narrative paradigm as the crucible for social comment and a call for change.”[158] The link between film noir and African-American cinema has also been explored by Manthia Diawara[159] who, while referring to the contemporary noir-ish treatment of Black rage, focuses primarily on the 1950’s-set Chester Himes adaptation “A Rage In Harlem” (Bill Duke, 1991).

While it is clear, then, that the question of the generic status of the ‘hood-movie can be approached from a number of theoretical viewpoints, in commercial terms it seems to be the case that the success of “Boyz ‘N The Hood” prompted the subsequent release of “over twenty similarly packaged feature-length films”[160] which would probably not have appeared otherwise. While the number of ‘hood-movies which actually achieved mainstream success was smaller than is generally supposed (of those released in the wake of the successes of 1991, only “Set It Off” achieved theatrical receipts which approached those of “Boyz”) it does appear that Hollywood decision-makers seemed to have discovered a form of Black-authored film with which they could feel comfortable.
If the “Hollywood movie” can itself be described as a genre[161], it seems clear that dealing, as they do, with a hero braving dangers, and reaching some sort of resolution (even if, as in the case of Caine in “Menace”, this occurs at the point of death), the ‘hood-movies appear to conform to universal mythic patterns as elucidated by mythologist Joseph Campbell[162], for example, whose work has been highly influential with respect to the construction of commercial film narratives[163]. It is this very adherence to Hollywood templates, however, which, in the view of some scholars, is holding African-American film back; as Gladstone Yearwood argues: “Unless a black cinema challenges these positions through a reformulation of cinematic languages, the historic flood of blackface images and neo-minstrelsy that is in vogue in contemporary film and television will persist.”[164]

“... the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, -- a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
W.E.B. Dubois, orig. 1903[165]

The concept of double-consciousness, it has been argued, is central to African-American cultural expression and criticism[166]. The creative community is, from this viewpoint, faced with “the problem of how to express the ‘soul-beauty’ of the black experience in an antagonistic social setting that despises it”[167], and scholars have the task of establishing the “cultural authenticity of black forms of expression”[168] by artists utilising “the more obvious Euro-American forms”[169]. While the industrial and collaborative manner in which films are commercially produced might tend to militate against their being defined in terms of individual intellectual activity, I would argue that, appearing as they did at a time of economic recession which hit Black communities particularly hard, the ’hood-movies seem to be part of the “crisis canon”[170], i.e. those African-American artworks upon which particular attention falls at times of social upheaval, and whose authors are consequently burdened with the responsibility of presenting the predicament of Black America before White America, in such a way as to alienate neither constituency. It appears to be the case, however, that as the cycle progressed, the films began to be seen as problematic in terms both of traditional Black aesthetic values, and of their perceived omnipresence, which seemed to suggest stereotypical attitudes, within the commercial film industry, towards Black filmmakers and audiences.

The most obvious problem that the ghetto action films faced, however, was a practical one: the gang violence which broke out in and around several cinemas where some of the early films were being shown. Rioting accompanied showings of “New Jack City” in Los Angeles, and there were shootings at cinemas in Chicago, Las Vegas and Brooklyn[171]; similarly, when “Boyz ‘N The Hood” opened, there were at least thirty cinema-based firearms incidents in various parts of the country, two of them fatal[172]. Consequently, each film was initially withdrawn from a number of cinemas after its opening weekend[173], although the total number of screens showing both actually increased during their second weeks[174], as it became clear that it they were destined to be highly profitable. While this context-specific violence could be attributed to a number of factors (Singleton himself admitted to having fashioned the promotional trailers of “Boyz” in such a way as to emphasize the gun-play which would be attractive to his intended audience[175]; and psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint suggested[176] that the presence of hundreds of rival gang members in a confined space was bound to prove tense, especially when they were able to identify with events on-screen), the fear was expressed that it would jeopardise the future production of Black films, since their earning potential would be limited if white would-be cinemagoers were reluctant to expose themselves to physical danger[177]. Violence at cinemas in predominantly white areas, however, prompted no such fears with respect to the future of “white” film production; as Mario Van Peebles put it, referring to a fatal shooting at a showing of “The Godfather III” (1990) the previous Christmas, “If Francis Ford Coppola's movie has a problem with three people getting shot, no one says to David Lynch, 'You can't make movies'.”[178]
The idea that, in a wider context, the media’s treatment of violence is racially coded, has been extensively examined by educational theorist Henry Giroux[179]. He suggests that violent crime amongst white youth, whether occurring in real life, or in films such as “Kalifornia” (Dominic Sena, 1993) and “Natural Born Killers” (Oliver Stone, 1994) is perceived as aberrant, whereas that depicted in the ‘hood-movies is seen as inherent to - and largely the responsibility of - poor Black communities. Discussing the sociological authenticity of ‘hood-movie violence in conjunction with the amoral, hyper-real violence exhibited in the films of Quentin Tarantino (particularly “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), and “Pulp Fiction” (1994)), Giroux expresses the hope that strategies will be developed to utilise such cinematic works pedagogically, in such a way as to elucidate the relationship between the representation of violence and its roots in socio-political reality. A possible way forward in this regard is suggested by Mark A. Reid, who concludes a piece[180] examining Black gangster films from 1926 to 1992 in the context of the entertainment industry as a whole, by giving examples of questions which might be asked by those aiming to investigate their relationship both to mainstream crime films, and to the real lives of African-Americans (e.g. “Is violence shown to be an act of retribution or is it left unjustified? …Why might one audience permit violent actions while another audience might condemn them?”[181]).

In an article previewing the release of “Boyz”, Newsweek’s film critic John Leland describes one of the few overtly violent scenes thus: “… when one character fires a bullet into the already helpless body of his enemy, the soundtrack registers the familiar explosion of the gunshot and then, in the quiet night air, the puny metallic ring of the spent cap falling on the pavement. This detail, a haunting death knell, is part of the vocabulary of young urban blacks… But in a medium obsessed with guns, this sound is new…”[182]. While the precise nature of the African-American aesthetic has been the subject of a great deal of debate[183], in suggesting that Singleton’s film was not only sociologically authentic but also contributed something new to an art-form, Leland went some way towards placing “Boyz ‘N The Hood” in the tradition of work by authors and musicians which has illuminated the lives of Black Americans whilst enriching the culture as a whole.
The ‘hood-movies share a number of features which are common to African-American cultural artefacts of previous eras. As has been previously noted, music is central to the lifestyles of the youths depicted, and several scholars have noted that the active use of music is a feature of many Black films[184]. The use of specifically African-American modes of speech is also evident, particularly in those scenes which serve to establish character and relationships rather than advance the narrative (e.g. Steel’s profane (and fictional) sexual boasting during the opening segments of “Juice”; Caine and O-Dog’s expletive-laden conversation, occurring in voice-over and preceding the opening credits of “Menace”). Double-consciousness is reflected in the characters’ perception of White America as a monolithic “they”, alien to the ‘hood universe: - "Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care what's going on in the 'hood", suggests Doughboy in the reflective, final scene of “Boyz”[185]. Henry Louis Gates has developed the concept of “signifying” (or “signifyin’”[186]), which links traditional African modes of word-play with the tendency of Black American writers and musicians[187] to maintain an ongoing critical/artistic dialogue both with previous works, and with official “white” culture; it might thus be argued that the utilisation, in “Juice”, of segments of “White Heat” (Raoul Walsh, 1949) featuring a hero (played by James Cagney) who is as pro-active and doomed as some of the contemporary gang-members, is an example of creative “signifying” on previous cinematic traditions; and that the most telling achievement of “Set It Off”, with its foregrounding of women’s issues, its reluctantly violent female heroines, and Queen Latifah’s swaggering portrayal of a proud lesbian[188], is the effectiveness of its ‘signifying’ upon films which followed the accepted, male-oriented ghetto formula.
The films also display a number of features which, while in accordance with African-American aesthetic traditions, proved problematic for observers of the cycle. Gladstone Yearwood points out, for example, that, “as a grand signifier of the African diasporic experience, migration has deep structural power that informs narrative activity in the black cultural tradition”[189]. It is notable that, in common with slave narratives of the 18th and 19th centuries where migration is an essential aspect of liberation, and the pioneering “Blaxploitation” films of the 1970’s “Sweetback”, “Shaft” and “Superfly” which all conclude with their heroes making a break from their problematic physical circumstances, the central characters of the 1990’s ‘hood-movies tend to perceive success largely in terms of escape from the ‘hood[190]. It is perhaps notable that, in the wake of, and perhaps in direct response to the ‘hood-movies, there appeared a number of popular Black-directed films which focused upon characters who found themselves in social contexts which were conducive to transformation, or at least to the fostering of creative and constructive solutions to their problems. “Boomerang” (Reginald Hudlin, 1992), for example, was about a womanising advertising executive who seeks to reform; “Waiting To Exhale” (Forest Whitaker, 1995), dealt with the post-migration travails of four Black woman professionals in Arizona; and “Soul Food” (George Tillman Jr., 1997) saw its Chicago-based clan cope successfully with bereavement, crime and marital breakdown, whilst remaining in situ. While these “middle-class” films were perhaps too diverse to constitute a genre, the fact that they all found popular success[191] suggests a growing weariness with the kind of negativism reflected in ‘hood tales.
This dichotomy reflects what is perhaps the central dilemma facing African-American artists: the difficulty of creating work which is both authentic to the experience of Black Americans and positive in terms of reflecting their aspirations. As S. Craig Watkins argues, “such a project is, of course, impossible given the range of experiences and identities that make up a vast and diverse African American population”[192], and he goes on to outline the debate during which it was suggested that 1980’s television sit-com “The Cosby Show”, featuring a happy, upper-middle-class Black family, “provided a surreptitious critique of the urban poor”[193]. Clyde Taylor[194] discusses Henry Louis Gates’ disapproval of the negative portrayal of Q’s older, middle-class rival for the affections of Yolanda in “Juice”, in the context of the Ivy League professor’s longstanding anger at “authentic” Blackness always having been perceived as ghetto-based; and he examines fellow columnist Kalamu ya Salaam’s criticism[195] that Tre Styles’ father should have been seen organising his community in “Boyz”, in terms which are similarly critical of the “positive image” position. The thrust of Taylor’s article is that even during the “Boom of 1991”, the films made were insufficiently numerous or diverse to constitute a context within which negative images could co-exist with positive and ambiguous ones, in order to build up a picture of Black America which is as complex as the picture of “White” America disseminated by the film industry. Several years later, S. Craig Watkins suggested that the situation had not improved, calling for “a cultural politics that invests in the idea that the representation of the social world is irreducible to the positive or negative image conundrum”[196].
Amongst the reasons why “Menace II Society”, could be described as the most problematic of the post-“boom” ‘hood-exploitation-movies is the fact that the Hughes brothers largely dispensed with “positive” portrayals, in favour of presenting a nihilistic “slice of life”[197] narrative. Having trained themselves by making documentaries and rap-videos, and seeming to draw more inspiration from the work of Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma[198] than from the kind of African-American cinema (e.g. the work of Julie Dash and Charles Burnett) whose aesthetic/ethical basis is a desire to “contribute ideologically to the advancement of black people”[199], they produced a movie which, from Gladstone Yearwood’s Afrocentric perspective, is “too heavily steeped in realist film languages”[200], and which (unlike “Boyz”, say, whose father figure, Furious Styles, is given to well-informed political speechifying) makes only token nods in the direction of socio-historical analysis[201].
Speaking to Henry Louis Gates, Albert Hughes confirms that when asked by Variety how “Menace” would compare to “Boyz”, he said that “as far as violence is concerned, it’s going to make his [John Singleton’s] film look like Mary Poppins” [Robert Stevenson, 1964][202]). While “Boyz” depicts four fatal shootings, all towards the end of the film, “Menace” has an on-screen toll of nine, which, however, still seems meagre, when compared to other action films of that era – Giroux quotes film critic Vincent Canby’s calculation of 81 fatalities in “Robocop II” (Irvin Kershner, 1990) and 264 in “Die Hard II” (Renny Harlin, 1990)[203]. It was the matter-of-fact abruptness of the presentation of these murders, however (with the exception of the stereotypically action-movie-style cross-cutting and slow-motion utilised in the final 30-second ambush sequence), which convinced some approving reviewers that “Menace” provided “an agonizing reflection of a generation at war with itself”[204]. Conversely, Yearwood, for example, argues that it was “a film in which oppressed people celebrate their own oppression”[205], a position which, while acknowledging the empathetic and visceral pleasures offered by such texts (also applicable, perhaps, to two more conventionally violent action films of that year, “Rising Sun” (Philip Kaufman, 1993) and “Demolition Man” (Marco Brambilla, 1993) - both starring Wesley Snipes[206]), appears to discount the idea that such enjoyment could be perceived as a form of resistance, with youthful Black consumers feeling empowered by the notion of being portrayed as objects of fear rather than pity, condescension or indifference.
Cinematographer and author Arthur Jafa places the film’s violence in the context of the historical persecution of Black men, arguing that it “shows characters applying a number of dissociative strategies to the problematic of being victimised” [207]. Amongst these strategies is the relentlessly dismissive treatment of women, who are, with the idealised exception of Jada Pinkett’s character (who is the only female allowed a degree of complexity), constantly referred to in pejorative terms, such as “bitch” and “ho”, and who, perhaps to the detriment of the story, remain in the background[208]. While “Boyz” contained a number of strong female characters (e.g. Angela Bassett as Tre’s upwardly mobile mother; Tyra Ferrell as a woman with divergent attitudes towards her two sons, Ricky and Doughboy; Regina King as a feisty ‘hood female who challenges Doughboy’s use of sexist language), it provoked similar objections in terms of its depictions of the woman’s role in African-American society – i.e. the tendency to “blame black women for the social failure of black children, especially boys”[209], whether because they are inadequate mothers (welfare claimants unable either to teach their sons to act responsibly, or to hold on to the men that could do so) or unhelpful partners (putting undue pressure on men through covetousness or unplanned pregnancy). This tendency reflects both traditional patriarchalism[210] and an unwillingness to examine particular socio-economic pressures on women, such as lower pay and sexual exploitation (issues which are explicitly addressed in “Set It Off”). I would suggest, however, that the ‘hood-movie cycle as a whole is clearly situated within a populist African-American aesthetic sensibility (taking in pop-songs, music videos, and fiction) which provides an arena for the examination of gender relations which is less polite, less dishonest, and less prone to wishful thinking than those offered by “official” culture.
The fact that “Boyz” was praised by right-wing politicians in America, at least in terms of its socially conservative agenda (“…what that movie says is that we need a strong father and that welfare is no suitable replacement for that...”[211]) indicates that another problematic aspect of this film-cycle, at least from some perspectives, was the fact that despite portraying social problems, the filmmakers seemed unwilling, or unable, to provide anything approaching a politically progressive analysis of the socio-economic conditions which gave rise to them. Kalamu ya Salaam, for example, asks: “Have we bought so completely into the system that we can no longer critique capitalism directly except to decry instances of raw racial discrimination?”[212], arguing that, in the films of the 1991 boom, the system is only criticised on the grounds that it excludes Black Americans. In later films such as “Menace” and “Set It Off”, criminality seems to be excused on the grounds that the small-scale capitalism it represents is one of the few choices available to ghetto residents. Critic Thomas Doherty suggests[213] that the poverty highlighted by “Boyz” is cultural rather than purely economic, and argues that Black artists of John Singleton’s generation have embraced an approach which stresses self-reformation rather than class struggle; this seems to link Singleton to the “post-liberated” “New Black Aesthetic” as discussed by, for example, author Trey Ellis (“… this new movement is… fuelled by a na├»ve exuberance and a for now unshakable belief that our youthful black power can perfect society and perfect the soul”[214]). Indeed, it would perhaps be inconsistent for practitioners of an art-form which is inherently dependent on the machinery of large-scale capitalism, whose participants are generally bourgeois (Lee, Singleton and the Hughes Brothers were all raised by middle-class single parents[215]), and where the material rewards for even relatively modest success are substantial[216], to preach socialist revolt, even if those filmmakers who work within the Hollywood system (as opposed to individuals such as Haile Gerima who explicitly reject industry values[217]) were that way inclined, which, on the whole, they seem not to be[218]. Nevertheless, it seems to be the case that the textually richest of the ‘hood-movies are distinct from the bulk of commercial film releases in providing politically-motivated analysts with sufficient evidence on which to base their own progressive theses; psychologist James Nadell, for example, uses “Boyz” as a starting-point for his examination of the “low-intensity warfare”[219] visited upon Black communities by the state apparatus.

The ‘hood-movies have also proven problematic in terms of the relationship between African-American filmmakers and decision-makers within the commercial film industry. The advantageous conditions under which “Boyz ‘N The Hood” was produced – an untried director signed by a major studio on the strength of an award-winning screenplay, apparently given free rein within the constraints of a modest budget, supported by an experienced and apparently committed producer/production manager/production designer[220], with a carefully thought-out promotional strategy – seem somewhat unique. Journalist Joe Wood, writing at the time that John Singleton’s second film, “Poetic Justice” was released, cynically suggested that Columbia had “jumped at the chance to invest in the lucrative black-film market [Spike] Lee had pioneered. If Singleton succeeded, he would win recognition as a black auteur like Spike, and with a twist: He'd be a member of the Columbia family, one of their own.”[221] The Hughes Brothers, telling the story of the way in which their script for “Menace” did the rounds of the production houses, claimed that they refused contracts with a number of major studios because each attempted to have prominent Black directors (Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Singleton) watch over them, as executive producers – a controlling strategy which the team rejected[222].
As was mentioned earlier, S. Craig Watkins estimates that over 60 Black-themed action films were produced between 1969 and 1974[223], but that the number of ‘hood-movies released between 1991 and 1995 approximated to only 20[224]. While this reflects different levels of output in general within the industry during the two periods[225], the fact that the success of “Boyz” did not inspire dozens of imitators - although the impression that it did may have been reinforced by the increased visibility of hip-hop culture, especially on MTV[226] - might also suggest that filmmakers were wary of repeating the mistakes of the 1970’s. It might be argued, for example, that the few Caucasian ‘hood-movie directors were somewhat more socially responsible than their “Blaxploitation” predecessors (e.g. Boaz Yakin’s “Fresh” (1994) shows a highly intelligent, chess-playing 12-year-old successfully playing violent drug-gangs off against one another; and the hero of “South Central” (Steve Anderson, 1992[227]) finds redemption in prison). Furthermore, the most successful Black-directed films of 1992 (the middle-class romantic comedy “Boomerang” (Reginald Hudlin), Spike Lee’s self-consciously epic biographical drama “Malcolm X” and action film “Passenger 57” (Kevin Hooks), starring Wesley Snipes as a security/martial arts expert who foils an airport hijack[228]) were set far from the ‘hood. The directors of the most high-profile “Boom of 1991” films similarly chose to distance themselves from the accepted ghetto formula in their follow-up projects – Singleton with the Janet Jackson vehicle “Poetic Justice” (1993)[229], Mario Van Peebles with the Black western, “Posse” (1993)[230], Matty Rich with the 1970’s-set family drama “The Inkwell” (1994[231] - written by Trey Ellis), and Dickerson with the action-thriller, “Surviving The Game” (1994)[232].
The fact that these films performed no more than adequately at the box-office highlights one of the problems which affects all filmmakers working within the commercial industry, whatever their ethnic origin; the fact that a failure to connect with the popular audience will result in a diminution of work opportunities. Mario Van Peebles, for example, has not had a cinematic release since the commercial under-performance of his re-creation of the 1960’s activist era, “Panther” (1995)[233], while both Julie Dash and Charles Burnett have turned to television[234]. Spike Lee, however, has continued to make films (“Bamboozled” (2000) was his 15th major release), despite repeated box-office disappointment, perhaps because he possesses personal qualities which enable him to enlist the aid of the popular media in his battles with major studios[235], and he combines an entrepreneurial zeal and a willingness to compromise in terms of budget with an auterist reputation which attracts bankable actors.
Another institutional consideration is the one which Lee highlighted when he asserted[236] that there are no Black executives who have the power to single-handedly authorise the production of a major motion picture. The fact is, however, that studio employees of whatever race seldom stay in one place long enough to attain positions of seniority[237] (a notable example being Columbia’s Stephanie Allain, who was responsible for discovering Singleton’s script for “Boyz”, and has since moved on several times[238]). In “Bamboozled”, Spike Lee presents his audience with a white television executive who claims to know more about Blackness than his African-American subordinates. While this is meant to drive home a satirical point, there are several Black filmmakers who will argue that they have had similar experiences within the Hollywood system in the post-‘hood-movie era . George Tillman, for example, claims that several studios initially turned down his project “Soul Food” [1996] because “it was a positive black film that didn’t have an urban backdrop – no action, no killing and therefore wasn’t ‘black’ enough”[239]. In this context, Reginald Hudlin’s argument that “the only way we’ll see meaningful change is when blacks have their own studios, or [when] studios create black divisions”[240] appears to have some merit.
The fact that “Soul Food”, while successful domestically[241], only received a limited release outside the U.S. illustrates another problem: the belief that there is no profit in attempting to market Black films which are neither action-oriented, nor comedies, nor star vehicles, to non-American audiences. This is an attitude which seems to be shared by overseas distributors - Julie Dash reports that while she was attempting to sell her female-oriented period-piece “Daughters Of The Dust” (1991) at the Sundance Festival, she was told by a Japanese distributor, “That’s not real black people”[242]; and an American producer recently claimed that his German financing partners refused to handle the film “The Caveman’s Valentine” (Kasi Lemmons, 2001), about a homeless schizophrenic who investigates a murder, because of its Black star (Samuel L. Jackson)[243].
Spike Lee had two films released in 1996:- his study of a disparate collection of Black men on their way to the Million Man March[244], “Get On The Bus”, and his quasi-comic examination of the phone-sex industry, “Girl 6”. Despite receiving wide releases, and the customary degree of publicity accorded to a Lee film[245], their combined theatrical earnings were exceeded by those of the unsubtle ‘hood-movie spoof “Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood” (Paris Barclay, 1996)[246]. This seems to highlight a problem which is potentially even more harmful than racism within the film industry - the apparent unwillingness of Black audiences to support non-stereotypical Black films, pointed to by several observers[247], one journalist arguing that “by avoiding movies that portray only the lowest common denominator of black life and supporting the trickle of intriguing black films, audiences potentially have the greatest amount of leverage to affect studio releases.”[248] Ed Guerrero[249] reports that “To Sleep With Anger” (Charles Burnett, 1990) - about a charming trickster from the South visiting a middle-class Black family in Los Angeles - made five times more money amongst the white, art-house audience than in Black areas[250]. Its star, Danny Glover, suggests that this and other dramas fail to connect with African-Americans because “black audiences feel safe with the images they've been inculcated with in the past. They have not begun to forcefully assert their own image. And whenever they've done that, it's been connected with the kind of bravado we saw in blaxploitation films, and the kind of insensitivity and arrogance and anger, but no sense of the subtleties of who we are as human beings.”[251] Actor-director Bill Duke was somewhat harsher, suggesting that the failure of 1991’s “The Five Heartbeats” (Robert Townsend) – the story of the rise and fall of a Black vocal group in the 1950’s and 1960’s - “spoke more about our community and our internal betrayal than anything else. Our community has to be a little bit more responsible about its philosophies.”[252]
I would argue, however, that the Black audience’s apparent preference for “low-brow” films over more intellectually significant works is often overstated. McKissack (1997), for example, suggests that John Singleton’s “Rosewood” (1997), depicting the true story of the destruction by a lynch-mob of a Black community in Florida in 1923, fared less well at the box-office than “B.A.P.S.” (Robert Townsend, 1997) – starring Halle Berry, and described in one review as “an excruciatingly unfunny comedy”[253]. Singleton’s film, however, earned $13 million, to the latter’s $7 million[254]. It appears to be the case, nevertheless, that the conventional wisdom within the Hollywood industry is that the most reliable audience is the adolescent one[255]; as one critic puts it: “when I go to see what are ostensibly grown-up movies these days, what I see is almost invariably pitched at an average 13- or 14-year-old's level of intelligence and maturity”[256]. Moreover, Hollywood’s exhibition strategy for widely-distributed, mainstream films tends to involve deciding “from box-office grosses very soon, often after the first weekend of release, whether the film will be a hit.”[257] Thus, non-formulaic films, which might appeal to a more contemplative audience (of whatever age, race, social class or gender), and would benefit from positive word-of-mouth, disappear quickly from cinemas. There is evidence that Black films perform significantly better on video than mainstream offerings - while, on average, films make 119% of their theatrical earnings when released for home rental, “Boyz” earned 667%, and “Malcolm X”, 327%[258]. Indeed, it could be argued that the small screen is a more suitable medium for “serious” projects (e.g. stories from African-American history or literature[259]) than cinema. A recent poll of Black film enthusiasts[260] seems to suggest an appreciation of work belonging to a wide range of genres, indicating that the “black audience problem” might have more to do with inadequate marketing, and a focus on short-term theatrical revenues, than “internal betrayal” or a lack of discernment amongst African-Americans as a group. A useful research project in this area might look at exhibition policies, box-office statistics, and audience ratings for individual films in, for example, the five inner-city multiplexes developed in recent years by Black entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson[261].

It seems clear that the ‘hood-movie cycle has assumed an importance, in the eyes of several observers, which is incommensurate with either its numerical or commercial significance. This is perhaps largely attributable to the high media visibility both of the social problems which the films depicted, and of the controversial “gangsta” rap music genre from which they routinely drew cast-members. While “Boyz ‘N The Hood” was almost universally praised for its sociological verisimilitude and textual richness, the release of the less obviously redemptive “Menace II Society”, two years later, raised a number of questions relating not only to the on-screen presentation of violence, but also to the nature of the Black aesthetic, and Hollywood’s attitude towards African-American artists and audiences. I would argue, however, that the problematic nature of the ‘hood-movie is a function of the rarity of African-American-authored stories within the commercial domain, and that if the “Boom of 1991” had led to large numbers of Black filmmakers being encouraged to emulate Spike Lee by “creating film narratives that engage the complex ways in which blackness is experienced and socially constructed”[262], then it would have seemed as absurd to characterize films set amongst troubled ghetto youth as typically “Black” as to suggest that Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) was an adequate depiction of “whiteness”.

“That's the first time you've ever seen 10 black males in a movie and none of them got killed.”
Debra Lynn Langford, vice-president, TV, Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment, discussing “Waiting to Exhale” (Forest Whitaker, 1995).[263]

It seems clear that the spectre of the ‘hood-movie haunts observers of African-American cinema to a degree which appears to be disproportionate, given the relatively small number of such films which were produced, and their limited impact on the American box-office. The fact that Black filmmakers had traditionally been excluded from the commercial film industry, however, only to be apparently welcomed when the stories they were telling seemed likely to appeal to negative instincts within audiences of whatever race, meant that the scepticism of the intellectual community was bound to be fuelled, and shown to be justifiable when filmmakers reported difficulty in finding backing for less readily marketable stories.
A recent Cineaste article suggests that African-American filmmakers “have been released from the ghetto of the 'hood film only, by and large, to occupy the less politically 'disruptive' ghetto of comedy” [264]. This observation appears to be supported by the U.S. success, earlier this year, of such low-budget Black-directed features as the family-reunion play-adaptation “Kingdom Come” (Doug McHenry, 2001)[265], and the male-bonding tale “The Brothers” (Gary Hardwick, 2001)[266]. The surprise box-office triumph, however, at the beginning of 2001, of the “earnest teen romance”[267] “Save The Last Dance” (Thomas Carter, 2001)[268] - whose Caucasian heroine, relocated to a Chicago ghetto, rediscovers her love for dance with the help of a Black would-be medical student, who is struggling to leave behind his gang-oriented past – suggests that the ‘hood retains some allure both for those African-American filmmakers who choose (or who are chosen) to work within the constraints of Hollywood, and for the general audience. The same might be said of John Singleton’s adventurous (according to one reviewer, “a touch too ambitious for its own good”[269]), Freudian-inflected exploration of ‘hood masculinity, “Baby Boy” (2001), whose success has been more modest [270].
Academic and filmmaker Haile Gerima argues[271] that the only way in which varied and empowering visions of African-American life will reach screens is through the development of a truly independent Black film industry, informed by a low-budget ethic, financed by Black individuals and institutions, not wedded to traditional methods of distribution[272], publicised by political leaders and conscientious critics, and supported by a public who are willing to both “vote with their dollars”[273] and query the non-availability of non-formulaic films[274]. While a number of the works which appeared during the ‘hood-movie era (most notably “Boyz ‘N The Hood”) provided evidence that the individual, socially committed voice can make itself heard via the Hollywood movie, the most important lesson to be gleaned from a study of the period may be that, on the whole, those visionaries aiming to tell stories which explore history, politics, sociology and aesthetics in such a way as to ensure that a complex and balanced picture of the diversity of Black America is available within the public domain, are best advised to seek outlets other than the commercial cinema.
Appendix A - The “Black Film Boom” of 1991[275]

Urban Action:
Boyz ‘N The Hood (John Singleton, 1991, distributor: Columbia)
New Jack City (Mario Van Peebles, 1991, Warner Brothers)
Straight Out Of Brooklyn (Matty Rich, 1991, Samuel Goldwyn Co.)[276]

House Party 2 (Doug McHenry/George Jackson, 1991, New Line)
Livin’ Large (Michael Schultz, 1991, Samuel Goldwyn Co.)
Strictly Business (Kevin Hooks, 1991, Warner Brothers)
True Identity (Charles Lane, 1991, Buena Vista)

A Rage In Harlem (Bill Duke, 1991, Miramax)
The Five Heartbeats (Robert Townsend, 1991, 20th Century Fox)

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991, Kino International)[277]
Jungle Fever (Spike Lee, 1991, Universal)[278]


[Hispanic director, Black/Hispanic cast]
Hangin’ With The Homeboys (Joseph B. Vasquez, 1991, New Line)

[Blaxploitation era actor-directors, limited releases]
Quiet Fire (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, 1991, P.M. Ent. GP.)
Steele’s Law (Fred Williamson, 1991, Po’ Boy)
Street Wars (Jamaa Fanaka, 1991)[279]
Up Against The Wall (Ron O’Neal, 1991, African Images)

[scheduled for 1991, released 1992][280]
Juice (Ernest Dickerson, 1992, Paramount)
Talkin’ Dirty After Dark (Topper Carew, 1992, New Line)

[unable to find distributor until 1992]
One False Move (Carl Franklin, 1991, I.R.S. Media)
Appendix B - The ‘Hood Movie Cycle: 1991-1996[281]

New Jack City (Mario Van Peebles, 1991)
Boyz 'N The Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
Straight Out Of Brooklyn (Matty Rich, 1991)
Juice (Ernest Dickerson, 1992)
Homeboys (Lindsay Norgard, 1992)
South Central (Steve Anderson, 1992)
Menace II Society (Allen & Albert Hughes, 1993)
Poetic Justice (John Singleton, 1993)
Strapped (Forest Whitaker, 1993[282])
Sugar Hill (Leon Ichaso, 1994)
Fresh (Boaz Yakin, 1994)
Above The Rim (Jeff Pollack, 1994)
Jason's Lyric (Doug McHenry, 1994)
Clockers (Spike Lee, 1995)
New Jersey Drive (Nick Gomez, 1995[283])
Dead Presidents (Allen & Albert Hughes, 1995)
Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood
(Paris Barclay, 1996)
Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Films in other genres with “’hood” elements:

“Homeboy” comedies:
House Party II (Doug McHenry/George Jackson, 1991)
House Party III (Eric Meza, 1994)
Friday (F. Gary Gray, 1995[284])

Rap industry comedies:
CB4 (Tamra Davis, 1993)
Fear Of A Black Hat (Rusty Cundieff, 1994)

Posse (Mario Van Peebles, 1993) - western
Tales From The Hood (Rusty Cundieff, 1995[285]) - horror portmanteau
Original Gangstas (Larry Cohen, 1996) – “blaxploitation” nostalgia

Appendix C - “All-Time Favorite Black American Films” [286]
(Poll carried out by the Black Film Center/Archive,
Indiana University, Bloomington)

1 “Claudine” (John Berry, 1974 – family drama)[287] tied with
“The Color Purple” (Steven Spielberg, 1985 – literary adaptation)
3 “Love Jones” (Theodore Witcher, 1997 – romantic comedy)
4 “Carmen Jones” (Otto Preminger, 1954 - musical)
5 “Porgy and Bess” (Otto Preminger, 1959 - musical)
6 “Malcolm X” (Spike Lee, 1992 - biography)
7 “Let’s Do It Again” (Sidney Poitier, 1975 - comedy) tied with
“A Raisin In The Sun” (Daniel Petrie, 1961 – family drama)
9 “Shaft” (Gordon Parks Sr., 1971 - action-adventure) tied with
“Superfly”(Gordon Parks Jr, 1972 - action-adventure)


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“Airport” (George Seaton, 1969)
“American Graffiti” (George Lucas, 1973)
“Baby Boy” (John Singleton, 2001)
“Bamboozled” (Spike Lee, 2000)
“B.A.P.S.” (Robert Townsend, 1997)
“Big Momma's House” (Raja Gosnell, 2000)
“The Birth Of A Nation” (D.W. Griffith, 1915)
“Birth Of A Race” (various, 1918)
“Black Belt Jones” (Robert Clouse, 1974)
“Black Caesar” (Larry Cohen, 1973)
“The Blood Of Jesus” (Spencer Williams, 1941)
“Body And Soul” (Oscar Micheaux, 1924)
“Boogie Nights” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
“Boomerang” (Reginald Hudlin, 1992)
“Boyz 'N The Hood” (John Singleton, 1991)
“The Brothers” (Gary Hardwick, 2001)
“Car Wash” (Michael Schultz, 1976)
“The Caveman’s Valentine” (Kasi Lemmons, 2001)
“Clockers” (Spike Lee, 1995)
“Coffy” (Jack Hill, 1973)
“Colors” (Dennis Hopper, 1988)
“Cotton Comes To Harlem” (Ossie Davies, 1970)
“Crooklyn” (Spike Lee, 1994)
“Daughters Of The Dust” (Julie Dash, 1992)
“Deep Cover” (Bill Duke, 1992)
“Demolition Man” (Marco Brambilla, 1993)
“Die Hard II” (Renny Harlin, 1990)
“Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989)
“Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood” (Paris Barclay, 1996)
“Easy Rider” (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
“Enter The Dragon” (Robert Clouse, 1973)
“Eve’s Bayou” (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)
“The Exorcist” (William Friedkin, 1973)
“Finding Buck McHenry” (Charles Burnett, 2000)
“The Five Heartbeats” (Robert Townsend, 1991)
“Foxy Brown” (Jack Hill, 1974)
“The French Connection” (William Friedkin, 1971)
“Fresh” (Boaz Yakin, 1994)
“Ganja And Hess” (Bill Gunn, 1973)
“Get On The Bus” (Spike Lee, 1996)
“Girl 6” (Spike Lee, 1996)
“Gladiator” (Ridley Scott, 2000)
“Glory and Honor” (Kevin Hooks, 1998)
“The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
“The Godfather III” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1990)
“God's Stepchildren” (Oscar Micheaux, 1938)
“The Great Train Robbery” (Edwin S. Porter, 1903)
“Guess Who's Coming To Dinner” (Stanley Kramer, 1967)
“Hallelujah!” (King Vidor, 1929)
“Hangup” (Henry Hathaway, 1974)
“Hell Up In Harlem” (Larry Cohen, 1973)
“Hollywood Shuffle” (Robert Townsend, 1987)
“Home Of The Brave” (Mark Robson, 1949)
“The Homesteader” (Oscar Micheaux, 1919)
“House Party” (Reginald Hudlin, 1990)
“The Inkwell” (Matty Rich, 1994)
“Jackie Brown” (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
“Jason’s Lyric” (Doug McHenry, 1994)
“Juice” (Ernest Dickerson, 1992)
“Jungle Fever” (Spike Lee, 1991)
“Kalifornia” (Dominic Sena, 1993)
“Kingdom Come” (Doug McHenry, 2001)
“The Learning Tree” (Gordon Parks Sr., 1969)
“The Lion King” (Roger Allens & Rob Minkoff, 1994)
“Little Caesar” (Mervyn LeRoy, 1930)
“Love And Basketball” (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000)
“Love Song” (Julie Dash, 2000)
“Malcolm X” (Spike Lee, 1992)
“Mary Poppins” (Robert Stevenson, 1964)
“Mean Streets” (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
“Menace II Society” (Allen & Albert Hughes, 1993)
“Men of Honor” (George Tillman, Jr, 2000)
“Misery” (Rob Reiner, 1990)
“Mission Impossible II” (John Woo, 2000)
“Natural Born Killers” (Oliver Stone, 1994)
“New Jack City” (Melvin Van Peebles, 1991)
“Niagara” (Henry Hathaway, 1953)
“Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” (Peter Segal, 2000)
“Once Upon a Time in America” (Sergio Leone, 1984)
“The Original Kings Of Comedy” (Spike Lee, 2000)
“Out Of The Past” (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)
“Panther” (Mario Van Peebles, 1995)
“Passenger 57” (Kevin Hooks, 1992)
“La Permission” [aka “Story Of A Three-Day Pass”] (Melvin Van Peebles, 1967)
“The Piano Lesson” (Lloyd Richards, 1995)
“Pixote” (Hector Babenco, 1981)
“Poetic Justice” (John Singleton, 1993)
“The Poseidon Adventure” (Ronald Neame, 1972)
“Posse” (Mario Van Peebles, 1993)
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Tay Garnett, 1946)
“Pulp Fiction” (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
“A Rage In Harlem” (Bill Duke, 1991)
“The Railroad Porter” (William Foster, 1912)
“The Realisation Of A Negro's Ambition” (George Johnson, 1916)
“Remember The Titans” (Boaz Yakin, 2000)
“Reservoir Dogs” (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
“Rising Sun” (Philip Kaufman, 1993)
“Robocop II” (Irvin Kershner, 1990)
“Rosewood” (John Singleton, 1997)
“Sankofa” (Haile Gerima, 1994)
“Save The Last Dance” (Thomas Carter, 2001)
“Scarface” (Howard Hawks, 1932)
“Scarface” (Brian DePalma, 1983)
“Scary Movie” (Keenen Ivory Wayans, 2000)
“School Daze” (Spike Lee, 1988)
“Set It Off” (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
“Shaft” (Gordon Parks Sr., 1971)
“Shaft” (John Singleton, 2000)
“Shaft's Big Score” (Gordon Parks Sr., 1972)
“She's Gotta Have It” (Spike Lee, 1986)
“Slaughter's Big Rip-Off” (Gordon Douglas, 1973)
“Soul Food” (George Tillman Jr., 1997)
“South Central” (Steve Anderson, 1992)
“The Spook Who Sat By The Door” (Ivan Dixon, 1973)
“Stand By Me” (Rob Reiner, 1986)
“Straight Out Of Brooklyn” (Matty Rich, 1991)
“Superfly” (Gordon Parks Jr.,1972)
“Surviving The Game” (Ernest Dickerson, 1994)
“Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song” (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971)
“Stir Crazy” (Sidney Poitier, 1980)
“Ten Minutes To Live” (Oscar Micheaux, 1932)
“Titanic” (James Cameron, 1997)
“Tony Rome” (Gordon Douglas, 1967)
“To Sleep With Anger” (Charles Burnett, 1990)
“The Towering Inferno” (John Guillermin, 1974)
“True Grit” (Henry Hathaway, 1969)
“Waiting to Exhale” (Forest Whitaker, 1995)
“The Watermelon Man” (Melvin Van Peebles, 1969)
“White Heat” (Raoul Walsh, 1949)
“Within Our Gates” (Oscar Micheaux, 1920)
“X-Men” (Bryan Singer, 2000)
“Young At Heart” (Gordon Douglas, 1954)

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[1] Utley (2000).
[2] The 14th most successful release of 2000 at the U.S. box-office, with a domestic gross of $123,300,000. N.B. - this and subsequent box office data taken from the websites Worldwide Box Office (, Box Office Guru ( and the Internet Movie Database (, unless otherwise stated - the ultimate sources being industry journals Variety and The Hollywood Reporter; ranking data for releases in 2000 as of Feb 12, 2001.
[3] The 15th most successful release of 2000 at the U.S. box-office, with a domestic gross of $117,600,000.
[4] As Morris (2000) suggests. [N.B. – where page numbers are not evident, it is because these quotes were gleaned from web-based sources where print versions were either non-existent or not physically available.]
[5] The 16th most successful release of 2000 at the U.S. box-office, with a domestic gross of $115,500,000.
[6] The 51st most successful release of 2000 at the U.S. box-office, with a domestic gross of $48,800,000.
[7] Respectively the 2nd, 4th, and 8th most successful releases of 2000 at the U.S. box-office.
[8] The 9th most successful release of 2000 at the U.S. box-office, with a domestic gross of $157,000,000.
[9] Which grossed $101,300,000 at the U.S. box office, according to Fuson (2000).
[10] Which grossed $38,000,000 at the U.S. box office.
[11] Grossing $27,441,000, on a budget of $15,000,000.
[12] Lee (1999).
[13] Lee (1999).
[14] Lee (1999).
[15] Which grossed $1,642,000 in the U.S.
[16] Which grossed $13,104,000; budget: $31,000,000.
[17] Lee (1999); the audience “problem” will be discussed in the final chapter.
[18] Gates (1992), p182.
[19] E.g. Leland (1991b), p50; Miller (1991), p1; Lowery & Sabir (1994), p106.
[20] Jones (1996), p40.
[21] “Mainstream America has always enjoyed us singing, dancing and making them laugh... That's their comfort level.” Spike Lee, quoted in Samuels & Giles (2000).
[22] “Apparently, the community wants movies about the black condition that focus on its criminal
elements, and there will be more and more of them as Hollywood sees that these films are going to make money.” McKissack (1997).
[23] Spigner (1994), p11.
[24] These books and others listed by Klotman (1978).
[25] Puttnam, p89.
[26] Hyatt & Sanders (1984) p164.
[27] E.g. Bobo (1991), Cripps (1999).
[28] Quotes from Cripps (1974), p36.
[29] Biographical information from DeBartolo (1998).
[30] Discussed by Gaines (1993), p49.
[31] From “Oscar Micheaux”, Corel All-Movie Guide 2 (1996).
[32] Cripps (1993), p76.
[33] Cripps (1993), p78.
[34] In Green (1993).
[35] “Ten Minutes To Live [Micheaux, 1932] exploits all the conventions of simplistic melodrama even as it interrogates on multiple levels issues of representation.” Hooks (1991), p360.
[36] “Melodrama elevates the weak above the powerful by putting them on a higher moral ground.” Gaines (1993), p55.
[37] “In his films, black women's bodies are celebrated: Plump or thin, light or dark (though they are never 'too' dark), they are sensual and desirable.” Hooks (1991), p356.
[38] Beatrice Goodloe of the Young Communist League, quoted by Taylor (1993b).
[39] Klotman (1978), p125.
[40] Cripps (1999).
[41] A 1938 headline from The Daily Worker, quoted by Taylor (1993b).
[42] Taylor (1993b).
[43] Both celebrated by Yearwood (2000), p33-36.
[44] Enumerated by e.g. Hillier (1992), Rhines (1995), Norton (1997).
[45] Discussed by e.g. Jarab (1985).
[46] “Attendances, which hit an all-time high of 78.2 million a week in 1946, plunged to a low of 15.8 million a week in 1971.” Biskind (1999b), p20.
[47] According to estimates made both then (see e.g. Bobo (1991), p431) and more recently (see e.g. Smith (1999) p78), with the Black population at 12-14%.
[48] As French (2000) suggests.
[49] “His characters were tame… amenable and pliant… almost sexless and sterile… the perfect dream for white liberals anxious to have a colored man in for lunch or dinner…” Donald Bogle quoted in Null (1993), p89.
[50] Aguiar (1999).
[51] Earnings of $15,000,000.
[52] Monaco (1981) p292-293.
[53] Bambara (1993), p118.
[54] After “La Permission” (1967), made in France, he was offered the race comedy “The Watermelon Man” (1969), by Columbia (described as 'very poor' by Monaco (1981), p292), and ploughed his salary, along with a $50,000 loan from comedian Bill Cosby, into “Sweetback”. (Information from Jaehne (1990)).
[55] Tidyman (2000, orig. 1971)
[56] Tying with “The French Connection” (William Friedkin, 1971), also scripted by Tidyman. (Steinberg, 1981, p443).
[57] See e.g. Kael (1977), p65.
[58] White (2000).
[59] “Black Leather” (2000).
[60] Lott (1991), p225. The number of 1970's Blaxploitation films is estimated at anything between 60 (Watkins, 1998, p93) and 150 (Aguiar, 1999).
[61] Partially funded by Black businessmen, with a budget similar to that of “Sweetback” (according to Street, 2000), and later picked up by Warner Brothers.
[62] “My dad, who's now 41, was once a pimp; he wanted to be Superfly.” Film director Albert Hughes, quoted in Gates (1994), p176.
[63] Many pictorially documented by Null (1993).
[64] Discussed by Diawara & Klotman (1991).
[65] “The movies are made on the cheap, on B-picture budgets, and the profits are enormous.” Kael (1972) p65.
[66] E.g. Gordon Douglas, one of Frank Sinatra's favoured collaborators (e.g. “Young At Heart” (1954); “Tony Rome” (1967)), who directed action thriller “Slaughter's Big Rip-Off” (1973); or Henry Hathaway, who had worked with Marilyn Monroe (“Niagara”, 1953) and John Wayne (“True Grit”, 1969), and ended his career with the drug-trade revenge drama “Hangup” (1974).
[67] E.g. Larry Cohen, who directed Fred Williamson in gangster films “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up In Harlem” (both 1973); Robert Clouse, who followed up Bruce Lee's kung-fu classic “Enter The Dragon” (1973) with “Black Belt Jones” (1974), featuring his previous film’s co-star, Jim Kelly; Jack Hill, who made a series of films starring Pam Grier, most notably “Coffy” (1973) and “Foxy Brown” (1974) which both countered the sexism of previous films by foregrounding a strong Black female, and compounded it by having her repeatedly undress.
[68] According to Biskind (1999b), p241.
[69] “By now, if a black film isn't racist, the white press joins in the chorus of the exploitation filmmakers who claim it's a film not for black people but for white liberals. That's how fast racism can become respectable when it's lucrative.” Kael (1972), p67.
[70] Mentioned by Aguiar (1999).
[71] Referenced by Hyatt & Sanders (1984), p167.
[72] Both quoted in McKissack (1997).
[73] Rhines (1995), p38.
[74] See e.g. Bobo (1991), p427; Proctor (1992); Watkins (1998), p108.
[75] Outlined by Rhines (1995).
[76] “Usually, a movie must gross double its budget before all costs are recouped.” Vaughn (1993).
[77] Maltby (1999), p70.
[78] Detailed by Watkins (1998), p119-120.
[79] Jackson (1993).
[80] Hillier (1992), p149.
[81] E.g. Eddie Murphy’s “Boomerang” (Reginald Hudlin, 1992).
[82] E.g. “Deep Cover” (Bill Duke, 1992).
[83] Gates (1992), p182.
[84] See Appendix A.
[85] To the extent that it was discussed in popular U.S. magazines such as Time (Corliss, 1991; Painton, 1991), Newsweek (Leland, 1991a, b) and The Economist (“That Hollywood Shuffle”, 1991).
[86] To be further discussed in the next chapter.
[87] According to Watkins (1998), p190, 192.
[88] According to Leland (1991b).
[89] Black journalist Nelson George, quoted by Proctor (1992).
[90] According to the director, interviewed in Jones (1992).
[91] According to the director, interviewed in Jones (1993).
[92] According to Gates (1994), p164.
[93] Biographical information from Light (1991), Simpson (1992).
[94] Biographical information from Chambers (1993), Impoco (1995-6).
[95] Ironic, since in 1992 he was severely criticised by the police for including the song “Cop Killer” (which he performs from the viewpoint of the title character) on his “Body Count” album (Information from the Corel All-Music Guide (1995)).
[96] Various debates outlined by Peter Hutchings in Hollows & Jancovich (1995), pp 59-77.
[97] Neale (1980), p51.
[98] Wright (1974), p41.
[99] Long-standing debates about film authorship notwithstanding, billboard adverts for “Boyz” read: “John Singleton wanted to tell the truth. Columbia pictures gave him the chance to do it.” (According to Hillier, 1992, p159).
[100] Wright (1974), p49.
[101] Cook & Dodd (1993), p124.
[102] In Altman (1984).
[103] Schatz (1991) p646.
[104] Dyer (1993), p99.
[105] The “Boyz” soundtrack peaked at No. 12 in the U.S. Billboard album chart; those for “Juice” and “Menace” peaked at Nos. 17 and 11 respectively; the soundtrack of “New Jack City” – in which rap was used non-diegetically - reached No. 2 (information from the Billboard Music Guide (1996)).
[106] I.e. Brandi (Nia Long) in “Boyz”; Yolanda (Cindy Herron, singer with vocal group En Vogue) in “Juice”; Ronnie (Jada Pinkett, in the first of a number of significant ‘hood-movie appearances) in “Menace”.
[107] The marginalisation of women being another of the “problems” to be discussed in the next chapter.
[108] I.e. Tre’s father Furious (Laurence Fishburne) in “Boyz”; Sharif’s father Mr Butler (Charles S. Dutton), and the imprisoned Pernell (Glenn Plummer) in “Menace”; and to a lesser extent Bishop’s traumatised father (L.B. Williams) and pool-hall owner Trip (Samuel L. Jackson) in “Juice”.
[109] I.e. the toddler who is present when his father’s blood-stained body is returned to the family home in “Boyz”; Q’s little brother, who idolises the murderous Bishop in “Juice”; Ronnie’s small son who is shown how to hold a gun by Caine in “Menace”.
[110] I.e. Officer Coffey, who brutalises Tre to the point of tears in “Boyz”; Detective Markham in “Juice”; Bill Duke’s unnamed and derisive interrogating officer in “Menace”.
[111] E.g. the schoolteacher who wearily conforms to political correctness - “...the Indians - sorry, Native Americans...” - during a history lesson near the beginning of “Boyz”; the passer-by who detours, and bumps into a lamp-post while trying not to walk too close to Q’s gang in “Juice”; the shifty man who employs various youths to steal cars for him in “Menace”.
[112] See n93.
[113] From Brian Case’s review of “The Lion King” (Roger Allens & Rob Minkoff, 1994) in the Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (1998); it is also outlined, for the benefit of would-be screenwriters, by Whitcomb (1999).
[114] Allen Hughes, interviewed in Gates (1994), p174.
[115] As interpreted by Burke (1998), from Schatz’s Hollywood Genres (New York: Random House, 1981), 36-41.
[116] As Gallagher (1999) argues.
[117] In Schrader (1972).
[118] N.W.A.’s 1989 album “Straight Outta Compton”, for example, described in the Corel All-Music Guide (1995) as “one of the most seminal albums in the history of rap”, spent 81 weeks on the Bilboard 200 chart. (Information from the Billboard Music Guide (1996)). Best & Kellner (1999) is an effective “beginner’s guide” to rap, as is Smitherman (1997).
[119] Discussed by Dyson (1993), p213.
[120] Reaching No. 31, and spending 19 weeks in the Billboard chart (Information from the Billboard Music Guide (1996)).
[121] According to Baker (1993), p169.
[122] Interviewed in Leland & Murr (1991).
[123] Ebert (1991).
[124] Ansen (1991).
[125] Cosh (1994) – reviewing the video release.
[126] Savlov (1993).
[127] Massood (1993), p44.
[128] Which was moderately successful at the U.S. box-office, earning $27.5 million, and being the 57th most popular film of 1993, just behind “Menace”.
[129] Nicholson (1993), p26 - quoting Singleton’s production diary.
[130] Singleton had given himself the cameo role of a mailman in “Boyz”, perhaps self-consciously symbolic of his function as messenger.
[131] Provoked by the acquittal of four police officers charged with the videotaped assault on Black motorist Rodney King.
[132] The film earned $20.8 million in the U.S.
[133] Played by Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss of rap group Naughty By Nature.
[134] Although the album as commercially released is apparently “an impeccable collection of contemporary urban r&b and hip-hop” (Billboard Music Guide (1996)).
[135] LaSalle (1996).
[136] Schatz (1991) p651.
[137] Cose et al (1999).
[138] Quoted in Fitzgerald (1995).
[139] Grossing only $13 million domestically.
[140] Much of which is critically reviewed in Gallagher (1999).
[141] “Most accounts of the Western regard Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery in 1903 as constituting its birth.” Maltby (1995), p117.
[142] According to Steinberg (1981), p442.
[143] The highest-grossing film of 1973 according to Steinberg (1981), p443.
[144] The second highest-grossing film of 1975 according to Steinberg (1981), p444.
[145] This cycle is discussed by Yacowar (1976).
[146] Warshow (1954) p435.
[147] Warshow (1954) p435.
[148] Warshow (1954) p435.
[149] In “Menace”, Caine describes his friend O-Dog as “America's nightmare - young, black, and didn't give a fuck”, and when asked by his grandfather, “Hey - do you care whether you live or die?”, can only reply “I don’t know”
[150] Warshow (1954) p435.
[151] Warshow (1954) p435.
[152] Hirsch (1999).
[153] Schrader (1972) p213.
[154] “Black Noir”, (Hirsch, 1999), p289-304.
[155] Hirsch (1999), p300.
[156] Hirsch (1999), p292.
[157] Hirsch (1999), p294.
[158] Hirsch (1999), p294.
[159] Diawara (1993b).
[160] Watkins (1999) p172 – although he neglects to list them. See Appendix B.
[161] “…it may be that Hollywood genres are in most instances best considered as subgenres of narrative film…” Neale (1990) p179.
[162] “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.” Campbell (1949), p30.
[163] Coleman (1995) discusses Hollywood screenwriting orthodoxy as dictated by followers of Campbell’s, such as Robert McKee.
[164] Yearwood (2000) p110.
[165] Du Bois (1989), p3.
[166] This is Yearwood’s (2000) central thesis, and is intensively explored in Gilroy (1993).
[167] Yearwood (2000), p77.
[168] Carolyn Fowler’s Black Arts and Black Aesthetics (1981), quoted in Yearwood (2000), p77.
[169] Fowler, quoted in Yearwood (2000), p77.
[170] Discussed by Holloway (2001).
[171] According to Dwyer (1991).
[172] According to Miller (1991), p1; Leland & Murr (1991).
[173] As reported in e.g. ‘The “boyz” of bloodshed’, 1991; and Miller (1991).
[174] Watkins (1998), p190-191, cites figures from Variety.
[175] According to Lott (1998), p219.
[176] In Dwyer (1991).
[177] This is the angle taken by Miller (1991).
[178] Quoted in Leland (1991a).
[179] E.g. in Giroux (1995).
[180] Reid (1993).
[181] Reid (1993), p472.
[182] Leland (1991b).
[183] Aspects of which, pertaining to independent cinema, are reviewed by Yearwood (2000).
[184] Dyer (1993) draws from Gloria Gibson’s The Cultural Significance of Music to the Black Independent Filmmaker (1988), and cites films as diverse as “The Blood Of Jesus” (Spencer Williams, 1941), “Car Wash” (Michael Schultz, 1976), “Do The Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989) and “House Party” (Reginald Hudlin, 1990).
[185] Also, in “Menace”, when Ronnie suggests relocation from L.A., Caine argues: "You act like Atlanta ain't in America - they don't give a fuck!"
[186] Defined as “… a linguistic tradition running throughout black culture that describes things or people by the use of humor, paradox, indirection, boast, and insult.” in “Gates, Henry Louis Jr.” in The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2001 (available online, at
[187] Smitherman (1997) explains the use of language and sampling in rap music from this perspective.
[188] The observation that homosexuality has largely remained a taboo subject within Black popular culture is discussed from a personal standpoint by Riggs (1991).
[189] Yearwood (2000), p228.
[190] Thus Tre in “Boyz” goes away to college; the heroes of “Menace” are on the point of migrating when they are caught in an ambush; the title characters of “Jason’s Lyric” are last seen on the bus out of town; at the end of “Set It Off”, Stony finds herself free and wealthy, but alone, hundreds of miles from home.
[191] “Boomerang”, whilst not one of Eddie Murphy’s most popular films, still earned $70 million domestically; “Exhale” grossed $66 million in the U.S., having cost $15 million to produce; “Soul Food” made $43 million domestically, on a budget of $7.5 million.
[192] Watkins (1998) p146.
[193] Watkins (1998) p149.
[194] In Taylor (1993a).
[195] In Salaam (1993).
[196] Watkins (1998) p147.
[197] Allen Hughes, quoted in Gates (1994), p174.
[198] According to e.g. Giles (1993).
[199] Lott (1991), p231.
[200] Yearwood (2000), p108.
[201] The images of the 1965 disturbances in the Watts area of L.A., which follow the opening credits lead only into Caine’s inadequately explanatory assertion, “When the riots stopped, the drugs started".
[202] Gates (1994), p171.
[203] According to film critic Vincent Canby as referenced by Giroux (1995).
[204] Travers (1993).
[205] Yearwood (2000), p108.
[206] The 17th and 18th most successful films at the 1993 U.S. box-office.
[207] Jafa (1993) – he worked on “Daughters Of The Dust” (Julie Dash, 1992) and “Crooklyn” (Spike Lee, 1994).
[208] Caine’s ultra-religious grandmother does little other than exhibit pained expressions during her limited time on screen; and although a young woman’s claims that Caine has impregnated and abandoned her lead to the climactic shoot-out, we see nothing of said liaison.
[209] Dyson in Collins et al (1993), p290, n9.
[210] “The absence of Black men at the head of their families and too powerful women precluded appropriate sex role socialization and ultimately adult male role performance… in short, Black males failed to learn what being a man was all about.” Hunter & Davis (1994), p22, summarising the results of research into Black masculinity from 1939 onwards.
[211] California’s governor Pete Wilson quoted by Watkins (1998), p224, from a TV broadcast on May 3 1992.
[212] In Salaam (1993).
[213] In Doherty (1991).
[214] Ellis (1989b) p250; see also Ellis (1989a) which profiles several exemplars, e.g. Spike Lee, playwright August Wilson, rock-guitarist Vernon Reid.
[215] Biographical information from e.g. Harrison (1992), Simpson (1992), Impoco 1995-6 respectively.
[216] Singleton’s lavish post-”Boyz” lifestyle is described in Collier (1995).
[217] "I don't degrade myself by telling you I made ‘Sankofa’ [1994 – about a Black fashion-model transported back in time to experience slavery] to entertain you. I made it to make you think." Gerima quoted in Wright (1994).
[218] E.g. “Right now, it’s all about ownership, entrepreneurship.” Spike Lee, in Lee (2000).
[219] Nadell (1995), p447.
[220] Steve Nicolaides, who performed similar roles with director Rob Reiner (e.g. on “Stand By Me” (1986), “Misery” (1990)), and also worked on Singleton’s “Poetic Justice” (1993) and “Shaft” (2000).
[221] Wood (1993).
[222] “As black young filmmakers, can we have our own identity, please? How come Universal didn’t say, go and work with Spielberg? I would have loved that.” Allen Hughes, interviewed in Gates (1994), p171.
[223] Watkins (1998), p93.
[224] Watkins (1998), p172.
[225] Although, by way of comparison, at least 39 “white” American “neo-noir” films were produced between 1991 and 1995 (Hirsch (1999), 329-377).
[226] Discussed by Watkins (1998), p178-183.
[227] Produced by Oliver Stone.
[228] The 18th, 26th and 32nd highest grossing films at the 1992 U.S. box-office, respectively.
[229] Which earned $27.5 million domestically, just out-performed by “Menace” which earned $27.9 million – they were the 56th and 57th most successful films of 1993.
[230] Which earned $18 million domestically.
[231] Which earned $8.9 million domestically.
[232] Which earned $7.6 million domestically.
[233] Which earned $6.8 million domestically.
[234] E.g. TV-movies “Love Song” (Julie Dash, 2000), “Finding Buck McHenry” (Charles Burnett, 2000).
[235] His struggles over the financing of “Malcolm X” described in e.g. Gates (1992), Fitzgerald (1995).
[236] In Lee (1999).
[237] “Today, the top production jobs at the major studios are filled by a bewildering succession of executives who shift from company to company as if they were playing an elaborate game of musical chairs.” Kent (1991) p41.
[238] She and a number of other executives are discussed in Boyd (1996).
[239] Quoted by Muhammad (1997), p92.
[240] Quoted in Alexander (2000), p115.
[241] See n191; in the U.S. it out-grossed contemporaneous releases with a higher international profile, e.g. “Boogie Nights” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997), “Jackie Brown” (Quentin Tarantino, 1997).
[242] In Lowery & Sabir (1994), p112.
[243] See Macnab (2001) p8.
[244] “On 16 October 1995 Washington DC saw one of its biggest-ever demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of black males converging on the city from every part of the country… The stated objective of the gathering was for America's black men to pledge themselves to ‘self-reliance and respect for women’.” Coe (1997).
[245] “Girl 6” also boasted a soundtrack by Prince, and cameo appearances from cultural icons Madonna, Quentin Tarantino, and Naomi Campbell.
[246] “Girl 6” grossed $4.9 million; “Get On The Bus”, $5.7 million; “Don't Be a Menace…”, $19.7 million.
[247] E.g. Spike Lee (in Lee 1999), who is particularly dismissive of the success of “Set It Off”; McKissack (1997); several interviewees in Lyons (1992) including critic Jacquie Jones, and filmmaker Bill Duke.
[248] Muhammad (1997), p91-92.
[249] In Guerrero (1993b).
[250] Grossing only $1.16 million in total.
[251] Interviewed in Biskind (1999a).
[252] In Lyons (1992), p43.
[253] Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (1998).
[254] Although audience breakdowns according to race, age etc. were not available.
[255] Discussed by e.g. Leitch (1992), Pampel & Fost (1994).
[256] Bowman (1999), p64.
[257] Hillier (1992) p153.
[258] According to Muhammad (1997), p104.
[259] E.g. “Glory and Honor” (Kevin Hooks, 1998), a TV-movie about Black explorer Matthew Henson, one of the first men to reach the North Pole, in 1909; or the TV-movie adaptation of August Wilson’s play “The Piano Lesson” (Lloyd Richards, 1995); see also n234.
[260] See Appendix C.
[261] Profiled by Smith (1999).
[262] Watkins (1998), p147.
[263] Quoted in Wakhisi, 1996.
[264] “Editorial” (2001).
[265] Which had earned $19,000,000 within a fortnight of release; budget: $7,000,000.
[266] Which had earned $22,500,000 within a fortnight of release; budget: $6,000,000.
[267] Rozen (2001).
[268] It grossed $27,500,000 on its opening weekend, and $68,500,000 within the month, the film's budget being $13,000,000; unusually for a “Black” film, it also received a wide U.K. release.
[269] Sterritt (2001).
[270] It had earned $24,700,000 within a fortnight of release; budget: $16,000,000.
[271] In Wright (1994).
[272] “A filmmaker who keeps his or her mind focused on theatrical release is almost doomed to failure… there is plenty of room for African-Americans in the expanding cable, direct-to-video, and CD-ROM/interactive disc arenas.” Rhines (1995), p39.
[273] Muhammad (1997), p104.
[274] An example of such a project might be “Eve’s Bayou” (Kasi Lemmons, 1997), a family drama set in 1960’s Louisiana, which was co-produced by its leading actor, Samuel L. Jackson, and grossed $15 million, on a budget of $4 million - discussed by Mask (1998).
[275] Compiled using sources such as Corel All-Movie Guide 2 (1996), Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (1998), and the Internet Movie Database (
[276] Winner of the Independent Spirit Award for best first feature.
[277] Winner of cinematography prize at 1991 Sundance Festival; premiered on TV in 1992 after festival showings.
[278] The third most successful Black-directed film of 1991, earning $32.5 million in the U.S.
[279] Premiered in April 1991 at the American Film Institute Film Festival in Los Angeles (reported by Masilela (1993), p117), but apparently never released.
[280] According to Leland (1991b) and Miller (1991) respectively.
[281] See n275.
[282] For cable TV.
[283] Executive Producer: Spike Lee.
[284] Co-written and co-produced by Ice Cube.
[285] Executive Producer: Spike Lee.
[286] Available online at; accessed on 21/3/2001 - not dated, although references to the American presidential election indicate that results were collated towards the end of 2000. No information concerning the survey population was available, but perhaps, given the academic nature of the site, a middle-class bias can be assumed.
[287] The fact that five of the top ten films were made by Caucasian directors suggests that a Black cast/theme was a more important criterion than Black authorship.