Tuesday (March 8) will mark 25 years since the domestic release of "New Jack City." The iconic film and its defining personalities—Wesley Snipes as the battle-hardened "Nino Brown", Chris Rock as addiction-plagued "Pookie" and Ice-T as vengeful cop "Scotty"—still stand as a statement on American cities at the height of the crack era.
In commemoration, "New Jack City" screenwriter and journalist Barry Michael Cooper sat down with hip-hop blog Ambrosia for Heads for an exhaustive Q&A about the film’s genesis, its importance in the era of #BlackLivesMatter and a glimpse of previously secret behind-the-scenes action.
The whole interview is worth reading in full, but some of Cooper’s responses illuminate why "New Jack City," with its Greek tragedy foundation and sensational depiction of drug trade splendor and squalor, endures. For instance, he talked about the film’s use of "I Corinthians 6:9," the famous line "Am I my brother’s keeper?" and its relevance to contemporary activism:
As far as "Am I my brother’s keeper" and Black Lives Matter, and where we are now [through Philadelphia], and Chicago, and B-More and Oakland all of these war-torn cities, it’s a very complex issue, because it goes back to what "Nino" says in the courtroom: They don’t manufacture Uzis in the ‘hood. We didn’t bring these drugs here. So "Am I my brothers keeper?" is a multilevel question. The answer is "Yes, of course is yes [sic], we are." But we’ve got a lot of opposing forces outside, pushing against us…
He also talks about "Nino Brown" as a strong Black male character when there weren’t so many in pop culture, as well as the elements of Greek tragedy embedded in his downfall:
This is before Barack Obama, so this is a proud Black man doing his thing. He’s pushing back against the Italians, against the establishment, and does his thing. But that ultimately undermines him. There is a bit of a Greek tragedy in that. There is a bit of classic literature. Anybody who "gets high on their own supply"—whatever that drug is, it may be ego, but they’re gonna fall.
Cooper even weighs in on drug legalization, which Brown brings up in a famous courtroom scene:
In many ways, I think the government took a quarter of a century to grapple with the legalization of marijuana, because it took that amount of time to assess how they would tax and monetize marijuana, and to create a federalized infrastructure to support it. The U.S. government also had to find a way to retrofit its legal system, as the use of marijuana became more and more decriminalized. But as it was with the repeal of prohibition, and the use of alcohol became more and more available, that did not come without its repercussions, either. Fatalities from drunk driving, the complete destruction of families because of alcoholism, all of the deaths connected to the wide availability of alcohol. We will see this exacerbate with the availability of marijuana. Sometimes we get what we ask for … and everything that comes with it. There is a price tag for everything in this life, and that price will be paid, no matter what.
Check out the full interview here.