Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “Poetic Justice”
I have just five words for you: “You wanna smell my punani?” That line alone was enough to make Poetic Justice a classic piece of art. But aside from the raunch, this movie was much more than the critics initially gave it credit for. John Singleton said he wanted to tell the story of how black women in South Central were affected by the way the black men in their lives were dying. He also wanted to show how the characters open up and reveal their true selves when they’re away from the pressures of the city. Some of us loved it, some of us were disappointed and some of us didn’t appreciate it until it came out on DVD. Either way, you have a lot to learn about this one. Check out some of the facts behind the film.
Janet…or her people Didn’t Think Pac was “Clean”
Janet Jackson must have assumed Tupac was living some type of wild lifestyle because she didn’t mind asking him to take an AIDS test. Even though there were no sex scenes between the two. They just kissed. That move really showed how ignorant Janet and countless others were about the disease back in the day. A person with AIDS would either have to exchange a gallon of saliva with another person or have opening cuts in their mouth to transfer the disease to another individual. Apparently Janet didn’t know all that. She requested it but Tupac refused. Good man. Janet wasn’t feeling Tupac at all actually. He thought the two would remain friends after filming was complete. I’m going to let Tupac explain what happened.
The Role of “Lucky” almost went to another Rapper
Being that the two already had a standing relationship, John Singleton offered the role of “Lucky” to Ice Cube. Cube turned it down saying that at this point in his acting career he was not ready to play a romantic lead. We’ve got to respect that. It’s hard to image anybody out-acting Tupac. Plus I’m sure after playing roles like Doughboy in Boyz N the Hood, Cube wasn’t particularly ready to give up his street cred.
How did Janet become Justice?
The opinion of Janet’s acting skills is completely subjective. While some feel her portrayal was noticeably weaker than Tupac’s, others thought her character’s plight and her interpretation of it was believable. Whether you loved or hated her acting, Janet, who was the wealthiest woman in show business at the time, had to do some serious work to prepare; because, let’s face it, nobody really saw Janet as just another “around the way girl.”
Entertainment Weekly reported that Singleton made Jackson gain 10 pounds, watch Sophia Loren in Two Women and apprentice in a South Central hair salon for a day. Singleton also introduced Janet to a few of his homegirls from his old neighborhood. A couple of the girls hit it off with Janet and ended up spending two months in her California home. Two women from the group even went on to become background dancers for Janet’s tour.
Did the cast get along?
After word got out about Janet requesting an AIDS test for Pac, rumors that the cast didn’t get along began to swirl. We’ll never know for sure but several of the cast members, including Tupac, have said that filming was a good experience. Regina King and Maya Angelou sang praises about Singleton. Angelou said:
“He listens to how people talk. He has a good ear. So when it comes time for him to replicate that dialogue, he is able to do it honestly.”
And Regina King said John has a “gift of seeing something in people and pulling it out.”
King has also spoken a couple of times about Tupac’s loyalty. The first day of rehearsal King was in a car accident and was late. When she finally arrived she had no transportation. She said Tupac took care of her. He took her to the police station to sort out the details of the accident, took her to lunch and just really looked out. She said he was a good man. We believe it.
Listen to the full clip of Regina talking about working with Pac here at the 4:10 mark.
More on Pac…(because we know you can’t get enough)
In an interview promoting the movie, Tupac said he took the role because he wanted to show another facet of black men in South Central L.A.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t show another reflection of a young black male of today. All of our young black males are not violent. They’re not taking the law into his own hands. They’re all not going to that extreme. So Lucky’s working, he’s very responsible. He wants to set goals and accomplish them.”
In another interview, (same video clip though) Tupac said that he really enjoyed working with Janet Jackson.
“For me to do this right, I gotta really, truly indeed fall in love with Janet Jackson. And I did that… And when the movie was over it was like we broke up…”
Aww, doesn’t that kinda break your heart a little bit? But don’t feel too bad, Tupac said his tongue would never be the same. 🙂
Judged by the wrong standards: Poetic Justice vs Boyz N the Hood
Before Singleton even released his second movie, he got a word of warning from fellow director, Spike Lee:
“The same people who said you were the second coming of Orson Welles will now say, ‘What happened?’ They’ll feel it’s their duty to ‘knock you down a peg.”
Sometimes Spike is a little off base with his opinions but he was spot on with this one. Riding off the success of Boyz N the Hood it was only natural that reporters and fans alike would compare the two films. While some critics were able to appreciate the differences, others thought Poetic Justice fell short.
Leonard Klady of Variety magazine thought that the films use of language would be too foreign for audiences unfamiliar with that environment.
Though aiming to create a feel for the locale, Singleton periodically loses sight of audiences unfamiliar with the colorful lingo. That flaw will be a major stumbling block toward wide appeal, and overseas prospects seem particularly remote.
Roger Ebert, who’s far more recognized and respected, felt a bit more positively about the film. He didn’t like Poetic Justice as much as Boyz but he could appreciate the complexities of the more romantic side of the street life.
Yes, things are hard. But they aren’t impossible. Sometimes they’re wonderful. And sometimes you can find someone to share them with.
Ladies and gentleman, Roger gets it.
Singleton had a Response for the Naysayers
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Singleton responded to some of the negative feedback he’d received on his sophomore effort. You can tell by some of his comments that he was definitely young at the time, 24 to be exact.
”There’s only so many movies you can make where you have black people shooting each other and making people laugh and trying to shuck and jive.”
”Some critic coming up and trying to talk about my stuff just because he has some personal problems with a black man who’s 25 years old that has a college degree with no criminal record that’s made two movies and been nominated for two Academy Awards — if he’s gonna talk Isht about me because he has a problem with that, then I don’t give a hair.”
“If I wasn’t able to make movies and get out what was on my chest, where would I be as a young black male in America? These same people who want to start some crap (are) the same people that should want more black men to be making movies (rather) than thinking about jacking them for their cars. If there’s not more John Singletons there’s gonna be a lot more carjackings.”
Tell ’em why you mad John. His words may have been a little…aggressive but we definitely agree. A black movie doesn’t have to be about grim and gritty thug life in order for it to be good.
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