DAR Classic Films: Menace II Society

Once again, another DAR Roundtable of sorts to discuss a classic film to close out DAR Film and TV Week. Today, we gathered to discuss Menace To Society and the impact this film had. Let's get into it.

When it comes to Menace II Society, I have to file it under the classic category. The movie came out at a very distinct time. A lot of young adults were able to relate to what the movie portrayed.

The lead character Cain was figuring his way through life in the ghetto. He stayed with his grandparents in hopes of a better outcome. Cain's best friend O-Dog didn't operate the same way. We got a chance to see how people with different mentalities interacted on a daily basis.

Cain also learned the ins and outs of relationships. My favorite line comes into play when Cain sees his girl (played by Jada Pinkett) being roughed up.

"Dawg, you strapped?"
"You know it!"

While Cain doesn't shoot anyone, he does enough damage to make a point.

I love this movie for its transparency. I love that it's timeless and it's raw. There aren't many films that require my attention whenever they're being aired but this will forever be one of them.

"Menace..." was the very first movie I ever saw of its kind. I was young at the time and I remember I had no idea what to expect, needless to say, it became one of my favorite movies. I like Menace II Society even more than "Juice" and "Boyz in the Hood" because of the way it was written, directed and acted. I absolutely love the casting in this movie, I think each and every person played their character perfectly. They were believable and engaging and really let us viewers into their world and carried the entire story flawlessly. The soundtrack was a perfect fit for this movie as well.

I have no idea what it's actually like in Watts, let alone growing up there or living there, but I think this movie was a fairly accurate depiction. It isn't a plethora of drive-by's or an obscene amount of naked women or even an abundance of scenes glorifying negative lifestyles. While these things do take place in this movie, but not often, so that it is actually believable much like it is in real life.

I liked that the movie is done through the narrative of Caine and his perspective. Through Caine, we see the upbringing I'm sure many have gone through, with drug dealer and/or addict parents, bad influences throughout life, loss of family and acceptance from "friends" rather than actual family members. Throughout the first half of the movie we learn the importance of friendships and loyalty, and how these things can get you caught up. This movie came out on '93 and it amazes me how true and accurate the opening scene was and still is in present day, 2 African American men go into a store and are instantly faced with racism and of course they react; and they do so in a graphic, sudden and spontaneous way. Although I "knew" it would happen, every time I watch this movie I still jump when O-Dog repeatedly pulls the trigger and kills the store owner. I also find it very thought provoking that scenes from the 1965 Watts riots are shown, and you hear Caine say "after this, is when drugs came into effect", at that point you know you're in for a lot of crazy drama.

I think there are many important elements incorporated into this movie, the fact that Caine graduating high school is the most important thing to him and his grandparents and is celebratory, indicating that he wants better for himself. Of course, the scene that always sticks out in my mind is when Caine has Ronnie's son in his lap and is teaching him how to hold and shoot a gun. At that point, I think you know Caine has this lifestyle weaved into him, he doesn't see it as a big deal, but rather something a kid can or should know; he passed that down much like the way he learned when he was a kid.

As the movie plays out, Caine gets sucked into violence and crime. I don't think as viewers we were surprised. Although there are several graphic and violent scenes, I didn't think it was overdone at all. Even towards the end when Ronnie suggests Caine gets out of LA, we still want him to do and be better, and his conversation with Pernell in jail was the "pep talk" of the century and brought tears to my eyes because we know he will do better for himself and get out of this lifestyle and then we get hit with it....the most heart shattering, tear inducing, tragic and unfortunate scene to ever be shown on screen...the drive by that ultimately killed Caine and Sharif. I still get teary eyed just writing about it and as unfortunate as it was, I believe it is what makes the movie so great. Because the good guy didn't win. It wasn't predictable (in my opinion) and because nothing about this movie was easy. We connect to it, even though we may not have lived it that same way, we still connect because everyone goes through struggles.

I think Menace II Society will always remain one of the best because of its realism, the fact that issues the movie touches on are still extremely prevalent in areas of the United States (also elsewhere perhaps) and until that changes, people will always find elements in this movie that will allow them to connect to the characters and circumstances.

I became a fan of this movie instantly as a kid for all the wrong reasons. I saw the violence, the mentality, the characters and they reminded me of the people who I was growing up around. Thus it was fairly easy to get caught up in that imagery, but as I got older I began to appreciate the message behind it and also found comedy in it as well. Like, for instance, the opening scene might be one of the greatest scenes ever to me for the sheer hilarity of it. Now, Samuel L. Jackson is always funny, but when dealing with asking somebody if they have money they owe him? It's beyond hilarious, especially the guy and his responses to Sam. I even found hilarity in the moment Sam shoots the guy, as the guy seems to be smiling as he gets shot and jumps. I know, silly shit right? That's how I identified with the film as I got older I guess. I respect the message and the characters but I kept laughing my ass off on that opening scene.

Outside of that, the movie is pure entertainment to me and just an all around classic. OG Wax, Cain, O-Dog, even Sharif all provide moments and Charles Dutton as Sharif's father was definitely a great character in every scene, especially his message to them in the classroom. The movie is a reminder of the struggles we face as black men and a reminder of the ways we limit ourselves at times also. The violent environment we grew up in and the things we were around definitely make it seem like we can be held back or hold ourselves back. While the ending wasn't as sad to me as it is to some, I think it is truly a story of getting caught up, finding redemption, but it's too late. Menace II Society is a movie that shows the ups and downs, the reality and the true struggle in the black male experience.

Have thoughts on this film? Please post them below in comments.



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