“Hollywood movies create a fictional world that does not exist.” No matter how real it seems, Hollywood production add an extra element to create an original story. For black trauma films that experience this cinematic treatment, how much of an extra spin is really added? Is the Hollywood depiction of the inner city communities the real thing, or is it simply fanaticization for the big screen? The 1990s created a plethora of historic black films, written and directed by African Americans. Two of the most popular and iconic films Boyz n the Hood & Menace II Society effortlessly displayed the horrors of black trauma in communities. The directors of these films create a world so vivid, a world as realistic as can be. So believable that it raises the question, how much of it is true?
The 1990’s, especially the West Coast, played home to the most extreme cases of violence and destruction to the black community. Culminating in the LA Riots post the viral video of Rodney King’s beating at the hand of Caucasian police officers. As these events occurred in reality, it created a shadowed vision of African Americans in inner city communities. Outside of firsthand accounts or images broadcasted across the television screens, there was no other way for people to experience the Black inner city struggle unless it was portrayed through film; and because of that, the Black experience was exposed to new levels.
In particular 90’s movies, the depiction of the Black communities shared a connection to the real world that no other film provided before. Issues regarding drugs, violence, and poverty all found themselves to be focal points of the movies. At that same time, the black community was plagued by similar problems, every single day. Despite the national issue of poverty, violence, and drugs, the center of it all resided on the West Coast of the United States. California happened to be the center of it all and statistical numbers proved that. In the first half of the decade, at least one city in California sat in the top two of America’s most dangerous cities according to the crime rate. The numbers do not lie, they tell you more about the life in the inner city communities than any person can.
Hollywood, and innovative black directors chose to take this life, this inner city struggle, and display it on the screen for the world to see. The image was then real, all the stories, statistics, and conversations now had a tangible element, greater than just imagination. Menace II Society, a film released in 1993 displayed the bumps and crossroads of the life of a young Black man living in the tough world. The movie refused to shy away from the harsh realities that impacted the community, especially drugs and violence. Specific moments in the film create unpredictable images for the viewers, some uncomfortable to see. When two of the films main characters turn a simple trip to the liquor store into a murder and armed robbery, that emulates the unpredictable violence that arises in these cities. Although the scene is not real life, the reality is that situations such as this do occur, and life will continue to go on as if nothing happened.
Prior to Menace II Society, director John Singleton created a film of similar nature. Boyz in the Hood carried all the characteristics of the dramatic, inner city struggle movie that it was. Beginning with the characters from young ages, and following their lives throughout the years. It became very apparent to see the options young African Americans, especially young men have when they live in these communities. Their lives come down to accepting the horrors of the street life, or trying the best to make it out. Set in Los Angeles in the plagued 90s, the gang violence and bad influences became an important aspect for the characters to battle. Important not only for the movie, but also for the life that is reality for many individuals. Battling for survival on a daily basis was a theme in the film, similar to the non-Hollywood version that people live thru.
Masculinity developed to be another theme of the film, profoundly as the characters transformed from boys to young men by the end of the movie. Masculinity proved to be an important topic throughout the semester. Important to the point that one of the class lectures featured writer Scott Poulson-Bryant, and he specifically used Boyz in the Hood to speak on masculinity. Although the lecture was merely one class out of the whole semester, it was important to see the movie used as a positive example. Scott Poulson-Bryant found the positives in the film despite the troubling images and situations that created the movie.
Whether Hollywood added extra touches to these iconic films or not, they remain some of the most true reality movies created. The depictions of violence, drugs, and other forms of trouble in black communities find themselves in the middle of the movies. These particular movies are as real as it gets when it comes to the lifestyle that many individuals live and it was special for that to be placed on the movie screen for all to see.
3 thoughts on “Black Hollywood: Is it really like how it is in the movies?”
I appreciate you bringing up these important films in Black cinematic history. The reality of these films was certainly what led to them being so revered and respected. As you mentioned, the fact that they were filmed with Black directors is of key importance in telling a truthful narrative that resonated with urban Black communities. Since these films came out, there has been a plethora of stories that followed very similar tropes and stereotypes of Black communities. As real as these situations still are, I find it critically important that we find ways to showcase a more nuanced depth in what it means to be Black and move away from a monolithic view of Black culture as these tropes are getting played out. There will always be a budget to showcase the detriments of Black society as this feeds the overall stigma supported by white supremacy. It is films like Get Out, Black Panther, and Moonlight that bring a deeper breath of humanity to Black culture.
The biggest misnomer about integration is that racism will go away if we allow more pathways for Black people to access equal rights and and a result class mobility. This does not address the cultural and psychological disdain that whites have for Black people which ultimately leads them to self-segregate. The bombings on Black Wall St are surely indicative of whites’ desire to stomp out any examples of Black excellence, but even as integration became more of a reality the mechanisms used by whites to maintain their separations persisted and evolved to become more codified. Integration objectively has not been the answer for Black communities which leads to the belief that stronger cultural enclaves as you mentioned are crucial for Black people to lift our communities on our own. This will take major shifts in attitude and culture which has inherently been the issues preventing this from happening, among other systemic barriers.
I appreciate this post because it highlights the importance of Black films today and in recent history. White people will never understand what it is like to be Black but movies give them a glimpse into what Black people go through on a daily basis. I would also like to highlight the fact that all movie directors do not have the same goals in mind. Many directors today seem to be making money off of the misfortunes of Black people. There has been a stream of movies that have been recently produced that are about the relationship between Black people and the police. Most of these movies are not trying to do anything more than make money off of the Black community and not help or inform non-black people in any way.