“Hood Dramas.” “Urban Street Tales.” “Movies with messages”.
There was a clear movement afoot when brotherly filmmaking duo Albert and Allen Hughes released their feature debut, 1993 Society Threat II30 years ago, May 26, 1993.
There was Jon Singleton’s seminal 1991 drama Boyz in the hoodfollowed by that of Mario Van Peebles Jack’s New Town (1991), Ernest R. Dickerson Juice (1992) and Stephen Milburn Anderson central south (1992). The subgenre became so prolific in the early 90s that the Wayans Brothers made a feature film parody, 1996 How to Threaten in the South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
“They were the reason Threat got the green light,” Allen Hughes tells us in a new interview. “There was a movement going on… So Jack’s New Town helped us. Boyz in the hood helped us. Juice helped us. Highligths.”
Black filmmakers were still rare in Hollywood. But after directing the first two clips of 2Pac, an episode of America’s Most Wanted and a few shorts, the Hughes brothers had racked up enough juice to pitch Threatthat they had designed with screenwriter Tyger Williams, in town.
The story follows friends Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) on violent escapades through the treacherous streets of the Watts and Crenshaw neighborhoods of Los Angeles. “This is the truth. This is what is real,” reads the tagline. “We knew people like Caine and O-Dog,” Allen says. “But back then, in the news, young black men were just projected like animals, like apes, less than human Every time you turned on Cops, you would see a black boy running around shirtless. … We wanted to make a film that would show Western society how a child could become like that, the conditions that led to it.
And while Threatlike the films it was associated with, garnered widespread interest and critical acclaim, it also garnered some controversy for its ruthless violence, including an opening sequence where the ruthless O-Dog shoots and kills a Korean store owner.
The Hughes brothers saw it all coming, which is why they turned to another genre that was peaking in the early 90s for inspiration: the Italian mob film.
“We modeled a lot of it after Freedmen ’cause we knew they didn’t let niggas off with shit like they let the white man off with shit,” Allen said matter-of-factly.
“I will be sincere with you. We were like, ‘They won’t let black filmmakers get away with this. Because the bar is different, unfortunately. It’s just the way our world works, our country works. So we said if we model this and shape it the way Freedmen is modeled and shaped, if there are attacks that come our way, we can say, ‘Hey wait, how come that was OK, but it’s not OK?’ And it was more of a guarantee.
In addition to Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated 1990 film, the siblings have also referenced the works of Brian De Palma (including scarface but also Double body And To extinguish).
In fact, Allen says he and his brother “wanted to talk mostly to white people” with Threat. The filmmaker believes that the advent of the subgenre, along with the explosion of hip-hop music into the mainstream around the same time, helped ease race relations.
But he is appalled by what he has seen in recent years. “He kind of raised his ugly head. Racism has gone pop, who would have ever thought that would be possible? And you’re like, ‘Damn, these mothers still see us as monkeys. They still see us as animals. They’d rather save a fucking seal or a sea lion than a little black child. This is America for you. They’d rather save a dog on the street than a young black child. And it’s heartbreaking.