"Being a black man in America isn't easy. The hunt is on, and you're the prey."
The Hughes Brothers, Allen and Albert, were two film buffs barely in their 20s, when they unleashed Menace II Society on, well, society. Their provocative anti-violence gang story was one of the early defining films of the '90s genre of quote-unquote "hood movies", focusing on family, friendships and crime, within South-Central and Compton in Los Angeles. Menace II Society opened two years after John Singleton's Boyz n The Hood, and in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King incident and the subsequent L.A. riots but, as the creators explained to the SBS Movie Show back in the day, they first conceived of their film at age 15, as a direct response to the lack of accuracy in the films they were seeing about their own neighbourhoods.
"The script came about through us being frustrated about not seeing what we wanted to see in that particular lifestyle, being portrayed the right way," Allen Hughes tells Margaret Pomeranz. "We had the idea since we were 15 years old. We just waited and waited and waited and Boys N The Hood came out and I was like, 'Nah, let's not do it now because people think that's what its really like and they'll think that we're trying to write off that'. We waited a few months and then I was like, nah, let's do it. Cos it's so different."
The indie release was a critical hit, for the truthful way it depicted the attraction, risk and consequences attached to being in a gang. The movie should have made Tyrin Turner a superstar, for the newcomer's lead turn as Caine, but it did feature a star making performance by a newbie Jada Pinkett as Caine's terrified girlfriend, Ronnie. Ms Pinkett (pre Smith)'s unknown status is underscored by David Stratton's pronunciation of her name in his review for the The Movie Show:
Famously, Tupac Shakur was originally cast in the film (in a key support role of Sharif), but the rapper was fired by Allen Hughes for causing problems on the set. Shakur retaliated by attacking Hughes and was later convicted of assault and battery, and served a brief combination of jail time and community service.
Watch 'Menace II Society' on SBS Viceland
NITV 8.30pm Satursday 27 April (repeats 12:00am)
Watch the trailer
Unfortunately Menace II Society will not be available for catch-up viewing at SBS On Demand after broadcast.