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Black Stories Film Series #7:
“Menace II Society” (1993) directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, known together professionally as the Hughes brothers, is one of the most visceral “hood” movies that came out in the early 1990’s. It feels immersive, electric, and poignant. Divergent to “Boyz N The Hood” (1991), “Menace II Society” focuses more on the loss of hope that leads to violence as opposed to circumstance or desperation. These characters are not really taught to succeed nor given reason to want to survive. Without any ability to see a future that feels fulfilling, productive or meaningful, the boys behave recklessly and without reason. There is a powerful line in the film, where our lead, Caine, says, “My grandfather once asked if I even cared whether I live or die. Yeah, I do. But now its too late.” This is the story about what happens when everything that builds up the intelligent, good natured or moral side of the human spirit is neglected, and potential is slowly buried.
Shown through the eyes and narration of Caine (Turin Turner), we meet a small boy peeking from his bedroom into a dimly lit crackhouse that just happens to be his family home. He sneaks to the front porch in his footie pajamas, where he tries liquor for the first time and inquires about a gun. His mom is getting poked by the needle until she reaches oblivion and his dad (cameo by Samuel L. Jackson) shoots his friend dead over a game of cards. Caine watches in silent horror, and the screen warps and slows, making the viewer feel as queasy and frightened as he did in that moment. But Caine and the film move along quickly, matter-of-factly recounting how all of those closest to him drop like flies until he’s a teenager living with his grandparents. He is one of his only friends to graduate high school. Due to careful writing and proper execution, Caine is understood by viewers as our hero. He is wildly imperfect, but his demeanor is gentle. He is good natured and well-meaning, and he gives viewers a window in which we perceive the evil that goes on around him through a lens of compassion.
He develops a closeness with one of his friends girlfriends, Ronnie (Jada Pinkett Smith), and her son, Anthony – who were left behind with his friends incarceration. He looks out for them, and acts as a fatherly figure to Anthony. His grandparents attempt to guide him into being a more religious young man, but it’s his relationship with Ronnie that truly motivates him to be better, though he typically doesn’t realize. Their relationship is a driving force of the film, giving us a floating device in a story that would otherwise drown in its irredeemability.
“Menace II Society” is such a powerful film. In a country that oppresses black people until they merely exist in the corners of of society, fighting over resources, lacking education and healthcare, struggling to survive and being taught that they are worthless, violence is inevitable. Then they are stigmatized for the violence. This piece is unfortunately just another drop in the pond, when it comes to films, music, speeches, riots and other media that attempts to enlighten the rest of the world what is really going on in these communities, and another example of these cries for help falling on deaf ears. It is a moving story and deserves to be seen.