I think of hood movies as I think of noir movies. Film noir is not really a genre of film, in that nobody set out to make noir films. They were a selection of films that, when watched by the French after World War II, were noted for having similar themes and styles. Some of them were very popular, others not as well received, and like hood movies, there is a main core of films, though many have since tried to emulate them.
I’m here to help and if you would like to know more about this subset of films, please read on. Hood movies were directly tied to the popularity of hip hop music and indeed, many were used as vehicles for rappers to earn more mainstream recognition. In fact, the hood movie can be traced back to the late Eighties, where the rise of gang violence, drug use and rap music combined in Dennis Hopper’s Colors. The film showed Los Angeles at the epicenter of the three worlds clashing against the seemingly all-white , authoritarian LAPD, a theme that will re-occur many times later on. Powered by the title song form the soundtrack by Ice-T, Colors acted like early rap albums by NWA. Some people would decry the violence and say the glorification of such actions were the problem, but others would simply nod and remark that art was merely imitating life.
Hood movies made the leap soon thereafter with the release of Boyz In The Hood. Looking back, the movie clearly has some weak spots, however, it has such a strong impact on the movie world that it would change how studios marketed films for urban audiences as well. John Singleton was only 23 when he directed the movie from his own script and would be nominated for an Academy Award for both directing and screenplay, making him the youngest nominee and the first black nominee for Best Director. The movie also established, for better or worse, Ice Cube as an actor, a career that he would flourish in over the next twenty years.
One of my favorite hood movies to this day is New Jersey Drive. It always reminds me of high school, both as a film I watched a lot and of how myself and my friends would carry ourselves around town. I lived in a small suburb of Portland, Oregon and with the weather, we were heavily influenced by the East Coast style, big jackets and boots. We had to drive everywhere, in order to get anywhere, so we were constantly in someone’s car, someone’s mom’s car, someone’s car who we had no idea where the owner was. Though we never got into as much trouble as they did in the film, it still reminds me of my friends and how close we all were. But, the film itself, is terrific. Like most hood movies, there isn’t really a plot to speak of, but more just a glimpse into the character’s lives. The style of the film shows that the filmmakers grew up on the new Hollywood films of Scorsese and Coppola, as there are heavy influences from both as well as shades of influences from THEIR influences, like the visual touches of Godard or Bergman. Again, the theme of the omnipresent, dangerous police force, the teenagers who feel like they lived a thousand years while never really living at all and the dread that any moment could be their last are not only indicative of hood movies, but of film noir as well.
I feel that hood movies peaked in 1998 with another favorite of mine. Belly was directed by Hype Williams, then a prolific video director and starred DMX, Nas and Method Man. A cult movie to be sure, it marked not only a shift in movies, but also in rap music itself. After the deaths of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, musicians and their fans changed their tune literally, as they moved towards a more hopeful attitude and a new level of decadence that would ruin both the movies and the music. Both Belly remains visually striking and a film that definitely takes itself seriously as a film, trying new things with the medium and also trying to distance itself from other films.
Later movies that tried to emulate the creative and financial success of their predecessors could merely be written off as modern day exploitation films. However, I think the genre effectively closed out with Training Day and for good reason. Again, it revisited the theme of a doomed protagonist, the brutal tactics of corrupt police and city officials and had a gang of rappers in it, no pun intended. Furthermore, there was a lot of backlash by people who were upset that Denzel Washington has to play a villain in order to win an Oscar, but I think that it was fantastic that he won for a film so dark and different than many of the other roles he had be nominated in before. I love Training Day so much, to me it’s like a post-modern Chinatown, amazing acting performances and tight direction, I think it’s almost a perfect movie.
Any movies I left of the list? Disagree with the reverence I treat the movies I grew up on? Comments or concerns? Let me hear them. In the meantime, I leave you with some films to help you catch up on hood movies.
- Boyz In The Hood
- Menace II Society
- New Jack City
- Dead Presidents
- New Jersey Drive
- Set It Off
- One Eight Seven
- Training Day