A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Menace II Society is a bleak, violent, expletive-infused 1993 portrait of the dim prospects for young black men trying to escape the ghetto and to rise above the racism that put them there. The message is that in many ways, the grim outcomes, the high murder rate, and the high incarceration rate for young black men are in some sense predetermined by a social system designed to keep them from succeeding, sadly still relevant today. The world depicted here is almost completely devoid of tenderness, warmth, and caring, with the exception of a few enduring loyalties. Expect situations in which violence is an automatic over-reaction to even small annoyances, where friends pull guns on one another, and guys get shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Key characters are drug dealers. Preparation of illicit drugs is shown. Characters drink alcohol and smoke marijuana and cigarettes. Language includes hundreds of uses of "f--k" and the "N" word as well as "s--t," "p---y," and "d--k." A 5-year-old is handed a gun. Men constantly denigrate each other by calling each other words that negatively refer to women, including "bitch" and "ho." Sex is implied. A man is accused of getting a girl pregnant, which he says is impossible since he wore a condom. A girl who is pregnant is shocked that the father wants no part in helping her. This movie isn't appropriate for kids and could be difficult to watch for many older teens.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
MENACE II SOCIETY opens as two angry black boys, O-Dog (Larenz Tate) and Caine (Tyrin Turner), verbally abuse liquor store owners as they browse for beer. History clearly colors the encounter: The owners have probably been robbed before and the youths have probably been treated like potential criminals before. They bridle when one owner watches that they don't shoplift. Spewing expletives, the boys pay and start to leave but one last comment ticks off O-Dog and he murders both owners in a rage, grabs the video recording of the crime, steals the cash, kicks one of them for good measure, and runs out as Caine watches. Caine's narration then explains that his own parents were less than ideal: a heroin addict mother and a murderous drug-dealing father (a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson) who taught him nothing more than how to process street drugs when he was a kid. Grandparents warn Caine to change his ways. A woman encourages him to leave town with her and start anew. A Muslim friend preaches peace, and a friend's dad suggests there's a better way, but Caine is surrounded by peers who have chosen a path of anger and violence, and he decides to follow them instead of his better instincts.
Is it any good?
This is a well-made, extremely disturbing film. It examines the urban American dystopia created by systemic racism, systematic economic oppression, the drug trade, and the resulting culture of nihilism and violence that permeated lower-income black neighborhoods. The violence of that time sprung up as police unfairly targeted (and continue to target) black youth, but the movie suggests that violence is hard to control. When our first instinct is to settle conflicts with enemies using fists and guns, we are likely to resort to those same strategies with friends, too. Soon tenderness and empathy disappear, hinting that humanity is sure to follow. Menace II Society is clear that social unfairness against blacks has long been the initiating problem, but it's unflinching in its conviction that we always have choices about how to fight inequality.
Minor weaknesses include when directors Allen and Albert Hughes signal a bit too predictably what is to come, as when a Jaws-like soundtrack precedes a massacre, and surely the future for a character saddled with the unfortunate name "Caine" isn't going to be too bright. Nevertheless, the filmmakers have created a masterful step-by-step primer on what not to do and how not to be that still rings with truth.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way that few people try to steer Caine toward decency in Menace II Society. Why do you think peer pressure seems more important than doing the right thing for Caine?
How does making bad choices early in life ruin a person's chances of making good ones later? What are some examples in the movie?
Do you think this '90s movie is still relevant today? Why or why not?
- In theaters: May 26, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: September 8, 2009
- Cast: Larenz Tate, Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett Smith, Charles S. Dutton, Samuel L. Jackson
- Directors: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for strong bloody violence, drug use and pervasive language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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