Straight Out Of Brooklyn (1991)

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Black Stories Movie Series #4:

“Straight Out Of Brooklyn” (1991), directed by Matty Rich, is a story about black poverty in Brooklyn, New York in the early nineties, and similar to other films of this time (“Boyz N The Hood” & “Juice”), honestly reflects on the desperation that results in violence in these communities.

Dennis, played by Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (who later gained acclaim for his work in “The Wire”), is living in a Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn, New York and has just spent the morning listening to his alcoholic father beats his mother, when he decides he has had enough. He understands his father is destroyed by years of working for “the white man” to no end, no dignity and no wealth, and he knows that his future will be just as bleak if he does not take a different approach. Despite the more passive attitudes of his friends, and his girlfriend encouraging him to make his way the right way, he decides to rob a local drug dealer.

The film speaks head on about the frustrations of the imbalance of poverty and works to explain the links that this has to alcoholism and domestic violence and violence in general, but there is more subtle messages layered into the writing as well. At one point in the story, Dennis’ mother arrives at her job, unable to hide her battered face, and her female, white boss, whom she considers a friend, fires her because of the exposed bruises. “Your job will be here for you when you are better, but you need to take care of yourself.” This entire interaction is so mishandled and she is left with less resources than before she was discovered to be a victim of abuse.

It is important to note that this film was written by Matty Rich when he was only seventeen years old. He financed much of the budget with credit cards and donations from family members and raised money by going on a New York City drive time radio show and asking listeners for donations, where he received $77,000. The total budget for the film amounted to $450,000, but when it came out, it was critically acclaimed and made $2.7 million at the box office – a startling success. At the 1991, Sundance Film Festival awarded the film a Special Jury Prize, and by 1992, at the Independent Spirit Awards, Rich won the award for Best First Feature, George T. Odom (who played Dennis’ father) got a nomination for Best Supporting Male, and composer Harold Wheeler was nominated for Best Film Music. Surprisingly, Rich did not go on to have an especially successful career in filmmaking, but later switched gears – staying within the entertainment industry – and he now serves as CEO of Matty Rich Games, a Los Angeles-based gaming company. Matty Rich Games specializes in family-oriented and Christian-themed video games geared toward the African-American community. However, by taking the initiative to create this film – much of which was taken from elements of his own life – he was able to do what his character could not, and make a better life for himself and his children.

With the low budget and lack of experience, there is inevitable flaws in the quality of the film, but it is worth it for viewers to look past some of the melodrama, overacting and dowdy score to see the astonishing observations about inequality that “Straight Out Of Brooklyn” managed to deliver to wide audiences.  As Dennis gazes at the Manhattan skyline and erupts with the claim, “you know how they built that? By stepping on the black man,” you can’t help but languish at the validity of this statement. It is evocative, profound and direct. It is unfortunate that it is not more accessible (I watched in a series of parts on YouTube)!!

 

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