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Black Stories Film Series #9:
“Poetic Justice” (1993) was directed by John Singleton, following his 1991 hit, “Boyz N The Hood.” He brought along Tyra Ferrell and Regina King from the previous film into this cast, but “Poetic Justice” stars Janet Jackson as Justice, a young hairstylists living in LA, who begins to write poetry as a way of coping with the tragic murder of her boyfriend.
The film follows the typical romantic comedy trope where enemies become lovers, when hate turns to romance, when Justice ends up on a road trip with her friend Iesha (King), her boyfriend Chicago (Joe Tory), and his friend Lucky (hello, Tupac Shakur). Lucky is a mail man and a single dad. She immediately recognizes Lucky as the guy who flirted with her at her hair salon one time, but the two start off on the wrong foot.
Throughout much of the film, we are gifted with the poems of Maya Angelou, which the film portrays as the words of Justice. Narrated by Jackson, a standout scene is when she is getting ready in her bedroom, and we hear the words of the beautiful poem “Phenomenal Woman.” Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size, But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman, Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. The real Maya Angelou makes a cameo as Aunt June at the Johnson Family Reunion picnic. In a comedic high point of the film, the crew finds themselves crashing a family gathering, and as they lack strong families themselves, this scene allows them to feel a connection to the larger Black community as a whole.
There are some underlying themes of racial injustice, and how desperation in an under resourced community breeds violence, but the purpose of the film is not those things. It moves outside of that grittier tone, and comes together as a South Central fairy tale. There is a lot of melodrama, the soundtrack of a daytime soap, and it can feel cheesy, but it is an entertaining, mostly light love story.