In honor of the 20th anniversary of ‘Menace II Society,’ I proudly present this multipart retrospective. The current chapter is posted below. To read the previous chapter, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
Part 2: Countdown To Armageddon
In laying the groundwork for their crime ridden cautionary tale, the “Tender Trio” didn’t need to look very far for inspiration. They had only to peer out of their living room windows, or play their favorite rap albums. By 1991, Los Angeles had become a veritable powder keg of social unrest. The illegal drug operation birthed by “Freeway” Ricky Ross and his Nicaraguan connection had mushroomed into a nationwide epidemic. Throughout the 1980’s, L.A. gangs morphed into heavily armed militias thanks to the crack trade. A saturated marketplace soon facilitated their exodus to other areas of the U.S. This was especially true of L.A.’s two largest Black gangs: The Bloods and the Crips. Both organizations were born in the 1970’s, in the wake of the Black power movement. By the early 1990’s, they’d carved up every square block of South Central L.A. amongst themselves. Battle lines were drawn in accordance with neighborhood boundaries. Ordinary civilians became live- in hostages. The police became just another gang, though one with the backing of city government.
|Todd Shaw aka "$ir Too $hort"|
|Brooklyn's own Just-Ice aka the "Hip-Hop Gangster" circa 1987.|
By the early 1990’s, West Coast Gangsta rap was immensely popular. Still, its practitioners seemed to sense something terrible on the horizon. Their suspicions were confirmed by the beating of motorist Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD. The City of Angels was coming apart at the seams, and now there was videotaped evidence of it. Gangsta rappers weren’t rabble rousers, but prophets. This was the story that hadn’t yet made it to the silver screen. Black Angelenos of the early 1990’s had a lot in common with the European immigrants of Prohibition era Chicago. Both were largely working class groups that had been marginalized by the American mainstream. Both groups also contained a small subset that saw crime as a viable option. Both eras had a particular vice that, once deemed illegal, provided the basis for a thriving underground economy. With such economies comes extreme violence. It was fertile thematic ground that had yet to be sown. The “Tender Trio” sought to plant their flag. Tyger Williams began crafting a screenplay titled Menace II Society.
|"Doughboy" (Ice Cube) leaning on the hood of his tricked out impala in a behind-the-scenes photo from Boyz n the Hood.|
|Montoya Santana (Edward James Olmos) in American Me.|
The impending release of Boyz n the Hood had the trio fearing the worst. Had some bespectacled USC graduate beaten them to the punch? One of the first trailers for Boyz sold it as a “gang movie.” Something like Colors, but told from the perspective of Black gangbangers. Reports of violence at opening weekend screenings seemed to confirm that summation. Yet, for all of its R-Rated trappings (Profanity, sex, nudity, violence), Boyz was essentially a tender coming-of-age story. Newly emboldened, the “Tender Trio” proceeded as planned. In March of 1992, Tyger Williams found ample inspiration in American Me, a large scale opus about Chicano gang life. It chronicled the rise of Montoya Santana (Edward James Olmos) from small-time gang leader to the undisputed boss of La eMe (The Mexican Mafia). Williams revised his screenplay, turning out a much darker draft. Edward James Olmos had shown him just how far down the proverbial rabbit hole a modern gangster film could go. Williams was more than willing to take Black audiences on a similar journey, but would they accept the challenge? Better yet, would any studio be bold enough to finance such a vision?
TO BE CONTINUED...