Last week I saw Single White Female which was clearly a product of its time; the early 90s when erotic thrillers were hot. Another genre which was booming at that time was the urban drama. Movies about black youths growing up in the ghetto. Do the right thing was probably the movie that proved there was an audience for these kinds of movies and in its wake came movies like Menace 2 Society, Boyz ‘n The Hood and Juice. Another movie released at that time was South Central; a movie about a young black man released from prison only to find himself to be in the middle of a growing gang and thrown back into jail after he murders a rival gang leader. This second time in prison he starts to understands how history is constantly repeating and wants to be a good father to his son. Something he never had.
While the intentions are good, South Central is nothing more than an average entry in a genre that has some pretty good entries but faded out just as quickly as it appeared. In the end there are only so many stories you can tell about black inner city youth without touching upon the same elements in every movie; gangs, drugs, violence, prostitution and a better life. South Central features all these elements.
Glenn Plummer, who I best know for saying “Man everybody got AIDS and shit” in Showgirls, is Bobby and together with Ray Ray they are the heads of the Deuce gang. At the time a small gang but when Bobby kills a gangster with the really intimidating name of Genie Lamp he paves the way for Deuce to become one of the biggest gangs of LA. While his membership to Deuce makes him practically untouchable in jail he has to see how life goes on without him and how his son Jimmie grows up and starts to become a gang member as well at the age of twelve. His life changes when during the theft of a car radio he gets shot in the back and is in a hospital for a long time while a friendly nurse watches over him and calls in child protective services. Meanwhile Bobby cuts ties with the gang in prison and is taken in by a group of Muslims brothers who teach him the values of life.
The change of Bobby is well done and it’s relatable how slow the transition from a gang member to a soft spoken ‘educated’ man goes. They set up the character fairly good. He’s a gang member, but not completely evil. He was born without a father in an environment that gives a guy like him few options. Now that his son is on the same path as he once was he wants to make a difference and break the spiral. Despite the people responsible for the rehabilitation, the Muslim religion is never really touched upon. They seem to be concentrating more on teaching him the scriptures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King rather than Allah.
The ending is dissatisfying as it ends in a showdown between former friends Ray Ray and Bobby. Bobby’s son is clearly into the gangs and can’t believe his father has left that way of life behind. Ray Ray and Bobby hold each other up against gun point both claiming Jimmie. This is dissatisfying because at the end Bobby only has his son back. He just got out of jail and we haven’t even seen how he’s going to provide for himself. In television show The Wire there is a whole story line dedicated to a former gang member being released from jail and who has problems keeping it straight. It’s like trying to quit smoking: quitting is the easy part, the hard part is not to start again. There is so much more there could have been explored with this character yet we have to hope that everything is going to be okay now.