September 23, 2023

The racially motivated street drama was modeled after ‘Goodfellas’

MENACE II SOCIETY, Tyrin Turner (right), 1993, at gunpoint (Everett Collection)

A scene out Menace II society. (Photo: Everett Collection)

“‘Hood dramas.” “Urban Street Stories.” “Message Videos.”

There was a definite movement when brotherly filmmaker duo Albert and Allen Hughes released their feature debut, 1993’s Menace II society30 years ago, on May 26, 1993.

There was Jon Singleton’s groundbreaking 1991 drama Boyz n the Hoodfollowed by that of Mario Van Peebles New Jack City (1991), Ernest R. Dickerson Juice (1992) and that of Stephen Milburn Anderson South Central (1992). The subgenre became so prolific in the early ’90s that the Wayans brothers made a lengthy spoof, 1996’s How to threaten in South Central while drinking your juice in the neighborhood.

“They were the reason threat got the green light,” Allen Hughes tells us in a new interview. “There was a movement going on… So New Jack City helped us. Boyz n the Hood helped us. Juice helped us. Big time.”

Black filmmakers were still scarce in Hollywood. But after directing 2Pac’s first two music videos, an episode of America’s Most Wanted and some shorts, the Hughes brothers had gathered enough juice to pitch threatthey had come up with with screenwriter Tyger Williams, in town.

MENACE II SOCIETY, co-directors The Hughes Brothers, Glenn Plummer, 1993. (c) New Line Cinema/Court (Everett Collection)

The Hughes brothers and Glenn Plummer co-directors on the set of Menace II society. (Photo: New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection)

The story follows friends Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) in violent escapades through the treacherous streets of the Watts and Crenshaw neighborhoods of Los Angeles. “This is the truth. This is what is real,” the tagline read. “We knew people like Caine and O-Dog,” says Allen. “But at the time, in the news, young black men were just projected as animals like apes less than human Every time you turned on Police officers, you would see a black boy running with his shirt off. … We wanted to make a film that would show Western society how a child could become like this, the circumstances that led to it.

And while threatlike the “hood-set” movies it was associated with attracted widespread interest and critical acclaim, it also generated some controversy for its merciless violence, including an opening sequence in which the ruthless O-Dog shoots and kills a Korean shop owner.

The Hughes brothers saw it all coming, so they turned to another genre that peaked in the early ’90s for inspiration: Italian Mafia film.

“We modeled a lot of it Good day because we knew they don’t let n****s get away with s*** the way they let the white man get away with s***,” says Allen matter-of-factly.

‘I’m really going to be with you. We were like, ‘They’re not letting black filmmakers get away with this. Because the bar is unfortunately different. It’s just the way our world works, our country works. So we said if we model this and shape it appropriately Good day is modeled and shaped, if attacks come our way, we can say, ‘Hey, wait, how come that was OK, but this isn’t OK?’ And that was more of a security.”

GOODFELLAS, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, 1990 (Everett Collection)

Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta Good day. (Photo: Everett Collection)

In addition to Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated 1990 film, the siblings also referenced Brian De Palma’s work (notably Scarface but also Double And Blow out).

In fact, Allen says he and his brother “wanted to talk mostly to white people.” threat. The filmmaker believes the subgenre’s arrival, as well as the explosion of hip-hop music into the mainstream around the same time, helped to calm down race relations.

But he is appalled by what he has seen in recent years. “It reared its ugly head a little bit again. Racism has become pop, who would have ever thought that would be possible? And you’re like, ‘Damn, these motherfuckers still see us as monkeys. They still see us as animals. They’d rather save a seal or a sea lion than a little black child.’ That’s America for you. They would rather save a dog on the street than a young black child. And it is heartbreaking.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *