The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Higher Learning (1995)

"Higher Learning" (1995) is a drama film John Singleton wrote, directed, and produced. Columbia Pictures was the production company, and Sony Pictures Releasing was responsible for distribution. The movie has an outstanding casting featuring Omar Epps, Laurence Fishburne, O'Shea Jackson (Ice Cube), Kristy Swanson, Michael Rapaport, Jennifer Connelly, and Regina King. The film addresses social issues of racism, identity, abuse, and sexuality in a university setting. It's a diverse film with various stories where each actor adds their essence to their character portrayals.

John Singleton's brilliance intrigued many with his first film, "Boyz n the Hood," in 1991. Then, in 1994, he made the romance drama "Poetic Justice" starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Finally, "Higher Learning" was his third and most eclectic movie. Fishburne, King, and Ice Cube were already familiar with Singleton's work as they appeared in "Boyz n the Hood" together. However, this was the first time for Omar Epps. 

Before starring in "Higher Learning," Epps was breaking through in Hollywood. In 1994, he was in the comedy film "Major League II," but his most notable was Q from "Juice" in 1992. For Ice Cube, "Higher Learning" marked his fourth film. While his acting talent was apparent, people still knew him as a hip-hop artist because of his incredible success in the industry. Ice Cube was an unremitting part of black culture, especially for a youthful generation. As a result, he produced one of the funniest films ever made known as "Friday," which he released in 1995.

Laurence Fishburne was continuing to peak as an actor. In 1995 alone, he starred in "Bad Company," "Just Cause," "The Tuskegee Airmen," and "Othello." Before then," he was in "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Deep Cover," "Boyz n the Hood," and the "King of New York." And those were just some of his films from the 90s. His role in "Higher Learning" was the college professor version of Furious Styles from "Boyz n the Hood." Regina King was starring in her third movie. The previous two were also Singleton films, so some of her introduction to filmmaking came from his guidance. King had early exposure to producing films, but until she reached that part of her career, she starred in many major studio movies.

Additional actors include Trevor Smith (Busta Rhymes) and Tyra Banks. Rhymes was a famous hip-hop artist in 1995. However, Rhymes was new to acting even though he appeared in a few films, primarily as himself. His persona was an excellent fit for the movie because he wasn't required to be too far outside of how people knew him. Lastly, supermodel Tyra Banks starred in her first film. Before, she appeared in several music videos and episodes of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Singleton did a brilliant job with the viewpoints of this movie's characters. One can split this film racially between white and black perspectives and sub-perspectives within each racial group. Michael Rapaport, Kristy Swanson, Jennifer Connelly, Jason Wiles, and Cole Hauser each have their own identity and symbolically represent a particular social issue. This film has no real lead actor, as the main actors share the screen equally so that they can illustrate their character's stories.

This movie reminds us of the complexities of young people on a college campus. Society pressures them to fit in, find themselves, and deal with humans and their attitudes about life. It's a timeless film with the same, if not more, relevance today. Moreover, it's a film worthy of discussion because of the thought-provoking content Singleton provided. I highly recommend this movie now and forever.

Director: John Singleton
Writer: John Singleton

Starring Omar Epps, Laurence Fishburne, Kristy Swanson, Ice Cube, Michael Rapaport, Regina King, Jennifer Connelly, Jason Wiles, Tyra Banks, Cole Hauser, Bradford English, Busta Rhymes, Jay R. Ferguson, Andrew Bryniarski, Trevor St. John, Talbert Morton, Adam Goldberg, J. Trevor Edmond, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Kari Wuhrer

In John Singleton's powerful portrait of college life in the 1990s, a group of incoming freshmen at Columbus University -- including varsity athlete Malik Williams (Omar Epps), awkward outcast Remy (Michael Rapaport), and Kristen Connor (Kristy Swanson) -- struggle to find themselves and adjust to newfound independence. However, when Remy finds acceptance among a group of neo-Nazis, tensions rise even higher on a campus already divided along racial, socio-economic, and gender lines.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and streaming services.