'90s romantic drama has language, violence, drug references.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Poetic Justice is an iconic '90s romance -- starring Black cultural icons Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson -- that tackles a number of societal issues. It features frequent strong language -- including variants of "f--k" and the "N" word -- incidents of gun violence that result in death, and physical fighting. There is also an incident of over-consumption of alcohol and a sexual encounter, although no nudity. The romance centers around Justice (Jackson), a hairdresser and poet, and Lucky (Shakur), a post office worker, who end up on a road trip after Justice's friend, Lesha (Regina King), persuades her to come. Many of the problematic themes explored are a product of the social disadvantages Black American communities have historically been subjected to. The main characters have complex backgrounds, which help add compassion and depth to the way they behave and provide opportunities to discuss how grief can manifest and be managed. The poems that Justice writes in the movie are actually the work of the legendary poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who also makes a cameo in the movie.
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What's the Story?
POETIC JUSTICE sees heartbroken Justice (Janet Jackson), unwittingly intertwined with Lucky (Tupac Shakur) -- a postman with dreams of taking custody of his young daughter. Fate brings them together on a tense road trip where their disdain for each other soon melts to affection as they journey from L.A. to Oakland with lovers Lesha (Regina King) and Chicago (Joe Torry). When they make a detour and gatecrash a family reunion, relationships are tested as they break up and make up over past traumas, grief, and the need for love and family connection.
Is It Any Good?
This 1993 romantic drama depicts the complexity, hardship, and unity of Black American life with its all-Black cast. Although considered a Hollywood classic, Poetic Justice is dated by its melodrama and clunky edits making for some uneven storytelling. However, the main actors have become revered cultural icons in cinema, music, and poetry, and the film provides an opportunity to see them starting out on their cinematic journeys -- particularly King who went on to become the first Black American woman to direct a film at the Venice Film Festival with One Night in Miami. This impressive ensemble cast is directed by the late and legendary director John Singleton, whose first film, Boyz in the Hood -- released two years previously -- saw him become the youngest person (as well as the first African American) to be nominated for the best director Oscar at the time.
Layered in its themes of a slow-blooming romance against a backdrop of tragedy and violence, the movie offers scope to discuss themes of grief and why hurt people behave the way they do. The film shines an honest, compassionate light on Black American culture as the double-date road trip drives through themes of societal issues. These include drink and drug use, poor housing situations, and the importance of forgiveness, letting love in, and family values. What begins as an awkward ride of cold shoulders and comedy wise cracks, warms to a tender romance between hurt people finding comfort in one another.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the strong language in Poetic Justice. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the movie?
How were romance and sex portrayed? Did Justice and Lucky's relationship seem realistic? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Discuss the movie's violence. Did the violent scenes help tell the story in an effective way? Was it shocking or thrilling? Why? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
How were drinking, drug use, and smoking portrayed? Were there consequences? Did it glamorize it?
Can you think of any other romantic dramas that have an all-Black leading cast? Why does representation in media matter?
- In theaters: July 23, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: March 30, 1999
- Cast: Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Regina King
- Director: John Singleton
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive strong language, and for violence and sexuality
- Last updated: March 2, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
One Night in Miami
Powerful play-based drama focuses on iconic Black leaders.
For Colored Girls
Tyler Perry melodrama deals with intense, disturbing themes.
Boyz n the Hood
Powerful, old-school look at life surrounded by violence.
For kids who love romantic dramas
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