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Artist’s Choice Screenings: Poetic Justice

#AlbertaWhittle

"Carmen Jones, Poetic Justice and Young Soul Rebels are films which have intrigued me since childhood and continue to affect the language(s) I weave through my own practice. Each of these films defies cinematic expectations of race, gender and sexuality, deftly layering entanglements of love, desire, grief, trauma and recovery amidst political strife as worthy and multiple." Alberta Whittle


When writer and director John Singleton passed away earlier this year, the reactions from filmmakers, critics and audiences alike made clear the cultural impact his films had, and the extent to which they continue to connect with people to this day. Poetic Justice, the follow-up to Singleton’s seminal breakthrough Boyz n the Hood, received a lukewarm reception from critics when it was first released in 1993, but perhaps now is the perfect time to revisit this often over-looked film.

Given the film’s casting, it is interesting that this is a film which is not more fondly remembered; Janet Jackson stars as Justice, a beautician and poet in mourning after a personal tragedy, while Tupac Shakur plays Lucky, a musician who ends up on a road trip with Jackson’s no-nonsense heroine. The poetry (written for the film by celebrated poet Maya Angelou, who also cameos) is recited in voice-over, and the film plays with the contrasts between the language of Justice’s poetry and the language of her everyday life.

With the same LA streets as Boyz n the Hood as a backdrop, Poetic Justice reflects Singleton’s passion for exploring black identity and in casting such iconic and important cultural figures as Jackson, Shakur and Angelou, bears his commitment to giving black voices a platform. It is difficult not to see parallels between an early violent scene and the death of Shakur just three years later and with Singleton and Angelou no longer with us either, this is an engaging portrait of a very specific point in cultural history.