Menace II Society and Colonization Essay

This essay has a total of 3143 words and 12 pages.

Menace II Society and Colonization

"A crooked childhood it's what the way I am,
It's got me in the state where I don't give a damn,
Somebody helped me but now they don't hear me,
I guess I be another victim of the ghetto
So I guess I gotta do what so I ain't finished
I grew up to be a streiht up menace, geah."
-"Streiht Up Menace" by MC Eiht
The song lyrics above are from the soundtrack of the film Menace II Society and correspond
directly to the hardships that people are given when growing up in the ghetto and when
surrounded by a life of violence. Because they know nothing other than this aggressive and
brutal way of life, they continue this violent cycle and rarely break away to begin a new
way of life.

Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes direct the film. The Hughes began making movies at
age 12, but their formal film education began their freshman year of high school when
Allen took a TV production class. They soon made a short film entitled How To Be A Burglar
and people began to take notice. Their next work, Uncensored Videos, was broadcast on
cable, introducing them to a wider audience. After high school, Albert began taking
classes at the Los Angeles Community College Film School. Two short films established the
twins' reputation as innovative filmmakers and allowed them to direct Menace II Society
(1993), which made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and grossed nearly 10
times as much as its $3 million budget. After following up with Dead Presidents (1995)
they directed the feature-length documentary American Pimp (1999).

From the very first scene, detailing Caine and O-Dog's fatal armed robbery of a Korean
market, violence is cruelly graphic. "In this instance, the film succeeds in painting a
disturbing picture of violence, one in which the characters' lack of remorse, rather than
stylistic convention, shapes and colors the horror of the image." Although most of the
violence is filmed realistically and unfolds in real time, the Hughes can't seem to resist
stylizing some of the more important narrative events. Thus, while the robbery introduces
violence, O-Dog's shooting of the Korean market owner is shown directly only further into
the story, when black and white images of the store's stolen surveillance video are played
and replayed for the entertainment of Caine, O-Dog, and their friends. While an innovative
means of conveying action, the video becomes nothing more than a diversion. While it
builds tension and a false sense of foreboding, nothing comes of it; the video never
connects directly to the film's later events.

The next scenes are of the Watts riots in 1965. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act,
a new age in race relations appeared to begin. But the states acted quickly to circumvent
the new federal law. California reacted with Proposition 14, which moved to block the fair
housing components of the Civil Rights Act. This, and other acts, created a feeling of
injustice and despair in the inner cities. On August 11, 1965, a routine traffic stop in
South Central Los Angeles provided the spark that lit the fire of those incensed feelings.
The riots lasted for six days, leaving 34 dead, over a thousand people injured, nearly
4,000 arrested, and hundreds of buildings destroyed.

The Watts riots are extremely important in this film and are shown to illustrate and
symbolize the oppression of the African American race, which was taken to an extreme
during the Civil Rights Movement of this era. The directors use these clips from the Watts
riots to stimulate the audience and to make them think more deeply about not only the
scenes and occurrences of the film, but of all films and all instances relating to
colonization and the oppression of the African American race as a whole.

Menace II Society is a coming of age film detailing the summer after its protagonist,
Caine, graduates from high school. This is Caine's story, made literal through the film's
use of voice-over narration to convey his point of view. In this narration, Caine
repeatedly questions his actions and seemingly makes a decision, only to oppose that
decision through his actions that follow, without offering any explanation. Menace II
Society also strives, with varying degrees of success, to break from traditional and
generic depictions of violence.

Introduced in flashback when he murders a man in front of his young son in their home,
Caine's father initiates his son into a life of crime. After his death, Caine's father
figure becomes Pernell, and serves as Caine's criminal mentor and surrogate father until a
life term in prison limits his daily influence. While responsibility for Caine's welfare
also falls into his grandparents' hands and home, their attempts (especially his
grandfather's) to set him straight are disregarded. Caine can neither accept his
grandfather's religious beliefs nor respond when his grandfather poses the pivotal
question, "Don't you care whether you live or die?"

Caine's former teacher, Mr. Butler, also attempts to intervene, suggesting that Caine get
out of the hood before he gets into any more trouble. Mr. Butler, himself a father of
Sharif, an ex-knucklehead and now a Muslim convert, is only a minor character. The
intervention scene set in Mr. Butler's classroom motivates Caine to reflect upon his life,
but the effect of Mr. Butler's words, like that of Caine's grandfather, is only momentary.

Mr. Butler says critical words that every character in the film seems to be living by, yet
somehow cannot put them to good use. Mr. Butler tells Caine, "Being a black man in America
isn't easy. The hunt is on, and you're the prey. All I'm saying is... All I'm saying is...
Survive! All right?" Caine listens to Mr. Butler, but as his previous and future actions
illustrate, he doesn't really hear. Caine says himself that advice like this "goes in one
ear and out the other."

In a film in which relationships among men are founded on violence, it is no coincidence
that Caine's father and Pernell influence Caine in the most pervasive ways. Rather than
standing for the son's salvation, these fathers only make Caine's downfall inevitable.

With all influential father figures either dead or behind bars, the unprepared Caine must
adopt the role of father when Pernell accepts Caine's relationship with Ronnie (Jada
Pinkett), Pernell's former lover and the mother of his young son Tony. Pernell gives his
blessing, as Ronnie and Caine attempt to move out of the hood and to Atlanta, and Caine
comes of age, accepting responsibility for Ronnie, Tony, and himself. Conducted through
prison glass and telephones, the scene suggests the possibility that Caine has learned
from Pernell's mistakes and now can halt the history of self-destruction into which he was
born and raised. But this possibility is quickly negated at the going-away party for
Ronnie, where Caine attacks a man in front of Tony, a reinforcement of the violent scene
from Caine's childhood. In this sense, the film suggests that the only legacy Caine or
Tony can inherit is one of violence and self-destruction.

Women in the film are almost totally excluded from the story. The only exception in Menace
II Society is Ronnie, who is included precisely because she stands above or outside of the
environment around her, as suggested by her characterization and the spaces she occupies.
Ronnie is an important character in the film.

Shot in soft focus and with soft lighting, in contrast to the harsher realities of Caine's
world, Ronnie and her house become Caine's only safe haven. Within this space, "Ronnie's
subdued dress and practical manner sustain Caine in a way his own mother never could."
Ronnie's role as nurturer and protector emerges through her strong desire to shield her
son and Caine from guns, drugs, prison, and death. In this respect, Ronnie represents
Caine's only hope for survival. Within this survival with Ronnie is the promise of escape;
Caine will break away from his life of crime by escaping to Atlanta with Ronnie.

Ronnie also represents, in a sense, the New Negro. She will not settle for a life of
violence and crime for herself and her son. She continues her education and gets a job in
Atlanta, where she plans to move with Tony and Caine. She is a character who clearly is
not confused in the fact that she wants a better life and will not settle for life in the

In addition to Ronnie are the typical "homegirls," and a few almost silent appearances by
Caine's grandmother. The grandmother, even though with only a few lines in a few scenes,
represents the mammy. She is mostly reserved and quiet and lets her husband make the
decisions and do the talking.

The only other woman who factors into the film is Ilena, the mother of Caine's unborn
child. Completely opposite of Ronnie through her blatant sexuality, Ilena causes Caine's
downfall and foils his and Ronnie's attempt to start a new life. The men in the film seem
to "take care" of all problems, even though most of the pivotal problems involve the women
in the film. This sheltering of the women last up until the last scene when Caine is
gunned down by Ilena's cousin in revenge for dumping Ilena and abandoning his unborn
child. The audience only sees men solving problems and taking care of business as the
women reside in the background.
Continues for 6 more pages >>

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