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Regency Westwood Village Theatre | Q&A with filmmaker Mario Van Peebles
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Home / Now Showing / NEW JACK CITY
NEW JACK CITY opened in theatres on March 8, 1991, just four days after television outlets released the video of LAPD officers beating Rodney King. The film’s premiere became the setting for brawls and gun violence in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas, resulting in at least one death. In Los Angeles, Westwood’s Mann Theatre overbooked the premiere, leaving ticketholders outside without seats. The resulting “Rampage in Westwood,” the name given premiere night by the Los Angeles Times, saw rioting, looting, and police intervention. Interviewed for the LA Times, Ava DuVernay, then an 18 year old student at UCLA, explained that the Mann Village Theatre’s decision to shut down NEW JACK CITY is because “they don’t want black people in Westwood,” paralleling a similar panic around the premiere of Spike Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES. “They’re using (NEW JACK CITY) as an excuse. They’re afraid this place is attracting too many black people, basically.”
On April 9, 2022, the American Cinematheque and Mario Van Peebles bring NEW JACK CITY back to Westwood – at the Regency Westwood Village Theatre – in a landmark screening to reclaim space and the power of Black film.
Set in Harlem in 1986, NEW JACK CITY (1991) chronicles the crack epidemic and the rise of crack cocaine gangs. It’s a blistering crime thriller and gangster film. The story depicts the ascent of Nino Brown, portrayed by Wesley Snipes, to Harlem turf ruler and ruthless kingpin of the Cash Money Brothers (CMB) gang. As he takes over, converting apartment buildings into crack houses and accumulating mounds of money, Nino Brown makes enemies, causes turf wars, and triggers vengeance between gangsters and police alike. Mario van Peebles’s bold directorial debut references Blaxploitation stalwarts like SHAFT and SUPERFLY, pop icons like Miami Vice, and gangster epics like THE GODFATHER and SCARFACE. NEW JACK CITY is a glitzy, yet complex example of “New Black Realism” – a term coined by scholar Manthia Diawara to characterize a new wave of Black filmmaking. With streetwise dialogue, fluid hip hop sonics and vibrant visuals, NEW JACK CITY gives insight into the conflicting forces behind the War on Drugs and the toll of poverty and addiction on ‘urban’ communities. The film boasts a prominent ensemble cast including Ice-T and Judd Nelson as cop duo, Scotty Appleton and Nick Peretti; Chris Rock as Pookie, a crackhead turned informant; the late Bill Nunn as Duh Duh Duh Man, bodyguard and CMB thug; and Vanessa E. Williams as Keisha, CMB’s gun-toting, enforcer and assassin.
Despite the violence and fearmongering surrounding NEW JACK CITY, the film garnered commercial success. With over $47 million in ticket sales and a platinum soundtrack, NEW JACK CITY became the top-grossing independent film of 1991 and the first movie of the “gangsta” or “hood” film cycle that dominated Black cinema through much of the 90s.
NEW JACK CITY is the inaugural film screening for the ‘Perpetratin’ Realism’ program.
DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Brothers
In the early 1990s, a new wave of Black filmmakers drew audiences from around the world with their bold exploration of Black rage and desire. These films – dubbed by scholar / critic Manthia Diawara “new Black realism” – featured dynamic portrayals of Black people grappling with the hierarchies of power and the living legacies of white racism, gun violence, and illicit economies. From NEW JACK CITY to BOYZ N THE HOOD, these films were popular and profitable – attracting Black audiences to movie theatres…and sparking panic amongst white neighborhoods and business owners. These same Black audiences became the target of police surveillance and repression.
Despite their mixed critical reception, these films reimagined genre filmmaking (from coming-of-age dramas to heist thrillers and buddy comedies) by exposing the failed promises of racial progress and national inclusion. These stories of Black life, love, and friendship navigated complex and often contradictory representations of Black people – in news media, reality television, sitcoms, music, and fashion. This media landscape collapsed the distance between the image and the real – but Black filmmakers forced open and played in that space.
Perpetratin’ Realism reflects on Black visual culture and actual Black lives from this very same space.
-Dr. Felice Blake, Dr. Keith Harris, Dr. Roya Rastegar
This program was made possible by a generous grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association
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