Nash Simpson | Throwblack Thursday
Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 03:02
At age 21, the Hughes brothers, Allen and Albert, reached stardom after writing and directing their first major Hollywood movie, “Menace II Society” (1993). The fraternal twins held no qualms about revealing the realities of living in South Central Los Angeles, as they shamelessly addressed the hardships that epitomized the quintessential hood that South Central is. The brothers touch upon every relevant topic at hand, from gun violence and police brutality to drug abuse and misogynistic sexual practices. The realness of this film was unprecedented: the word “f--k” is used an average of over three times a minute and the n-word is uttered roughly 100 times total.
“Menace II Society” is a biographical chronicle of Caine (Tyrin Turner), a young black man who manages to survive a rugged upbringing in a home run by a gun-wielding, drug-dealing father and a heroine-abusing mother. Orphaned at an early age, Caine moves in with his deeply religious grandparents, who help their grandson grow up to be a man of exemplary moral fortitude. The point of the movie, however, is that in South Central, being a black man that fits such a positive description does almost nothing to separate him from the heavy influence of the prevalent subculture that exists right outside his very doorstep — one that nihilistically glorifies violence and crime, while also working against the same oppressive forces that incited the 1992 L.A. riots.
The movie does a fine job of painting Caine as a moral figure who miraculously stays away from crime, despite his being closely tied to characters like O-Dog (Larenz Tate) — his foil, who kills on impulse, places the dollar above all else and enacts revenge without rational consideration. Although he watches these things happen, Caine remains unaffected. As the film’s narrator, he states early on in the film, “I seen lots of people killed before ... but I ain’t never done it myself.” But after Caine witnesses a family member get killed, he detaches from his grandparents and plunges into the hood life of the world just beyond his doorstep. He aligns with O-Dog and, symbolically, with the legacy of his late parents. We see a powerful generational cycle prevail over the now seemingly silent voices of his grandparents, who represent the waning influence of the ideals of self-actualization and empowerment rooted in the Civil Rights Movement era.
To say the least, “Menace II Society” is a deeply impactful film, worthy of reverence by the entertainment industry, if not by all of us. But lo-and-behold, a sheer mockery of this classic black film came into existence only three years after its premiere.
Paris Barclay directed a spoof of the Hughes brothers’ work titled “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” (1996). The so-called comedy dismissed all the truths in “Menace II Society” as laughable portrayals of the oh-so-funny life in the hood.
The comedy did not spare any memorable part of the film from desecration, meaning that the creators of the film found no message conveyed in “Menace II Society” to be deserving of any kind of sacred label. I view such a project as not only disrespectful to the Hughes brothers, but also to the real victims of oppressed sub-cultures. Despite attempting, however poorly, to underscore some important lessons, “Don’t Be a Menace” ultimately opens a can of worms. It gives the impression that it’s funny to laugh at drug abuse, child neglect, police brutality and black-on-black violence, and that it’s amusing to see the positive effects of the Civil Rights Movement die with an aging generation. Let’s all laugh out loud and pop in a Tyler Perry movie to boot, because such mockeries are hilariously funny — funny indeed.
Nash Simpson is a senior majoring in English. He can be reached at Nash.Simpson@tufts.edu.