Survival 'Hood: 90's Movies and Young Black Men

Survival 'Hood: 90's Movies and Young Black Men

Mychal Denzel Smith laments the painful lessons about Black life in some of our favorite flicks

Mychal Denzel Smith

by Mychal Denzel Smith, February 21, 2012

Survival 'Hood: 90's Movies and Young Black Men

survive their circumstances. He not only survives, but escapes the ‘hood, attends college at Morehouse in Atlanta, and presumably goes on to live the Black middle class dream alongside Brandi (Nia Long). It’s tough, so we’re told, but there is hope if we educate ourselves.

Menace drops any pretense of hope. You can have a father and educate yourself, like Black and proud Nation of Islam convert Sharif (Harold Lawson), but bullets have no discernment. You can recognize the evil in your ways and have a genuine desire to change and escape, like young Caine (Tyrin Turner), but karma never forgets. According to Menace, nothing will save you. Frightening prospects, but I choose to believe what the Hughes Brothers really meant to say was that Black men’s survival wasn’t predicated simply on personal choices, and societal reform from top to bottom would be required before anyone was truly safe. I may be reaching.

And where do Back women figure in all of this? No one seems concerned about their survival. As so often happens in stories about Black men, Black women are pushed to the margins, never central to the narrative. Almost everyone has a mother, but there is little she can do to govern the behavior of her troubled manchild, minus the presence of a stern father. The sisters/mothers/girlfriends are largely tragic figures, and their and the emotions they experience in witnessing their brothers/sons/boyfriends exist in this state of constant upheaval is never pierced. Women serve primarily as a means of sexual gratification, a reward for success, or as a threat to a young Black man’s survival in the form of the vindictive “baby mama.”

There’s more worth unpacking in these films, but the theme of survival is so crucial because it becomes such an integral component in the Black man’s guidebook. There is literally nothing else more important. To an extent, that’s true, because everything else flows from the ability to survive. But when survival is valued above all else, so many other important aspects of self-actualization are rarely explored. Instincts rule, development is stunted. That mentality tends to play itself out in self-destructive ways.

I love these films, I grew up with these films, but I also grew up. They just got older. What I’ve had to learn that these movies couldn’t teach me was that it’s not enough just to survive. You need a vision for making a life and a support system to help see it through. We are a community. Our love for one another runs deep, but our hopes for each other are often misguided. We have to do more than save Ricky from getting shot. We need to be teaching him what he’s living for. 

Mychal Denzel Smith is a writer, social commentator and mental health advocate. Visit his official website or follow him on Twitter

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