Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “New Jack City”

July 23, 2012  |  
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“Sit yo five dollar azz down before I make change.”  There’s no way we can talk about this movie without that line coming up. Mario Van Peebles, in his directorial debut, struck gold. New Jack City was a cult and commercial classic, becoming the highest grossing independent feature of 1991. You know the story, you quote the lines but we bet you didn’t these behind the scenes secrets about the film. Check them out.

The People wanted to see it

You remember in the ‘90’s, many of the films that focused on violent concepts resulted in shootings during the screenings, (like Boyz in the Hood).  This was the case for New Jack City. But people debate whether it was the violence in the film or the fact that people couldn’t get in to see it. When the film was first released, only a few theaters were showing it. When people came to see the movie, they were turned away. These people, who were often teenagers, were left standing outside…frustrated. Just like today, people questioned whether Snipes’ portrayal was too real, resulting in real life violence.

Wesley wasn’t feelin’ Nino

When Snipes was first presented with this role, he wanted to play “Scotty,” the detective, Ice-T’s part. But both Mario Van Peebles and screenwriter, Barry Michael Cooper weren’t having it. The role was written specifically for Snipes.  After Barry Michael Cooper saw Snipes in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. Cooper said, “Wesley’s finger-in-the-face questioning of Michael Jackson’s bravery was so realistic that I thought Scorsese had hired a homeboy off the streets.”



While Snipes didn’t want to be a drug dealer, Ice-T, a gangster rapper, didn’t want to be a cop because of his strong ties to the Crips. Plus, he thought the role, especially if the movie stunk, would ruin his reputation and subsequently his rap career. But Ice T’ really got into the role. I still can’t forget that line of his: “I want to shoot you so bad my d**k is hard.” (Eeww) His performance wasn’t too bad and was celebrated at the time.  But perhaps after Ice-T felt the need to earn some of that street cred back. And then “Cop Killer” was born. But T can’t escape the cop role, he’s played “Fin” on Law and Order SVU for years.


This was one of Chris Rock’s first feature film roles and people really bought his portrayal. Growing up in Bed Stuy, Chris Rock knew firsthand what crack did to people. He had friends on crack, he knew guys who sold crack. He said, “I wasn’t on crack but we kind of all were on crack at the time. Crack had taken over my neighborhood. It was kind of easy to be ‘Pookie’ at  that moment in my life.” He really sold it. On his episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” Chris joked that drug dealers must have thought it was some kind of documentary.  Rock explained that for years after New Jack City, drug dealers would greet and hug Chris before sliding crack into his pockets.

Chambers Brothers

If you were a fan of BET’s “American Gangster,” you may have learned that the Nino Brown story wasn’t entirely contrived. A lot of it was based on the Chambers Brothers story. These four brothers sold crack in Detroit. Like Nino had his apartment building called “The Carter,” the Chambers Brothers also had an apartment called the Broadmoor. They moved into the 4 story, 52 unit building, selling different types of drugs on each floor. They often sold drugs alongside families who already lived in the building, forcing them to leave or deal with their illegal and dangerous activity. Officials have often claimed that the brothers ran their drug operation like a large, very organized corporation. The foursome became nationally known when they were caught on tape counting laundry baskets of money and flaunting their wealth.

How Vanessa tapped into her inner “bad girl” to play Keisha

We’d never seen Vanessa Williams like she was when she played “Keisha.” We were used to seeing her on the Cosby Show. But the actress told Black Voices she was so ready for this role.

“ I was so happy to be given the opportunity to play a bad-A$$ chick, and I was nothing but a little good ole church girl who wanted nothing more but to prove how bad I was. I had a whole back story for Keisha, where the CMB crew was her family and she had all this love for Nino Brown. She would give her life for him. None of this was ever written, but I created this for myself so that Keisha would have a full and complete life and more than what was on the page. I got the role and it was my first feature, and I was excited to be down. People are always asking me to say the line, ‘Rock-a-bye, baby!’ “




Wesley’s Got Chris Williams the Hook Up  

Wesley Snipes and Chris Williams just so happened to go to school together, at SUNY. While Snipes was doing a one-man show on campus, Williams decided to help with the lighting and the backstage stuff. Wesley remembered him and after he got the role of Nino Brown, he got in touch with the casting director so Williams could audition. The rest is history. (Wonder if he knew his boy was going to stab him?)  Williams also provided the hit song “Dreamin'” for the film’s soundtrack.


Escaping Nino Brown

In 2009, Snipes expressed his reservations about doing Brooklyn’s Finest because he didn’t want people to compare it to the epic role of Nino Brown. He told Black Voices, “I didn’t want to do Nino Brown part two. Didn’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that we see in movies of brothers being drug dealers and criminals.” He eventually decided to take the role because of director Antoine Fuqua. Fuqua explained to Snipes “how the character would be Nino after incarceration and rehabilitation. Snipes said, “So I thought that would be a different angle because that’s not endorsing the game; it’s a reflection of the futility of the game.”

But Wesley was right to worry about the association. For one sick reason or another, people grew attached to Nino. Snipes recalled how people responded to him in the streets regarding his portrayal of Nino.

“‘Yo Snipes, that Nino character you did. That was cold! That’s me. That’s my story. That’s what I’m living now.’ It was almost like I’m living a badge of honor. Guys, I’m not a drug dealer. I’m just an actor who played one. He died in the end. Didn’t you get the point?

Any man who uses a little girl as a shield for a bullet, is definitely not someone you want to emulate. There are so many lost ones out here. Do you love New Jack City? Does it still hold up today?


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