Menace II Society: 20 Years Later

It was my senior year of high school. A hot Memorial Day weekend, May 26, 1993. My cousin and I went to a see it at a theater that has long since closed down, The Americana. Patrons were being waved down with security wands, scanned for guns. It was an inconveinece that we didn’t even think twice about. Hey, it was better than getting shot. This was Detroit. In the early 90’s, and violence was just a fact of life.

And so were guns. And the death or incarceration of young, black men. Doughboy had only declared it 2 years earlier, but it seemed like they still didn’t know, didn’t show, or just didn’t care about what was going on in the hood.

But, then came Menace II Society.

The “hood movie” genre was already in full swing. New Jack City, Boyz N the Hood, and Juice provided the visuals for the hardcore music of the time. Set to gangster rap soundtracks, the new image of African American culture now had faces to match it. While Nino Brown was a villain worth hating, Doughboy tugged at your heart strings, and Bishop, you just felt sorry for.

But, then came O-Dog.

Nothing could prepare you for the opening scene of the movie. The random violence was astonishing. O-Dog was an antihero. He blurred the lines between hero and villain. Because for all of his bad-ness, he felt like someone you knew, someone you loved. He was young, black, and didn’t give a f**k.

But the heart of the story was Caine.

Caine Lawson was a boy I went to high school with. And if you grew up in an urban jungle, you probably did too, and if you didn’t, you might have been him. The son of a junkie mother and a drug dealing, murderous father, raised by grandparents who didn’t understand him, Caine seemed doomed from the very start. But, he was smart. Unlike most of his friends, he was graduating from high school, a fact that endeared him even more with the audience. And, hey, I’ll say it… he was cute. He was handsome in a way that wasn’t off-putting. He was handsome in a way that was just above average, just enough for it to matter. He could pull the girls, with his texturized hair and his silk shirts. He had a nice (stolen) ride, and nice (stolen) rims.

[ALSO READ: ’93 til Infinity: Our favorite “Menace II Society” Characters]

He was such an epitome of young, Black manhood in the early 90’s, that he could have been from anywhere. But, he grew up in South Central Los Angeles. In the late 80’s and 90’s, after the rise of NWA and West Coast hip-hop, South Central was synonymous with violence and anger. Having been filmed and released just a few short years after the Rodney King beating and the uprisings that followed, the beginning images of the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the 1992 LA Riots (or Rebellion) explained without words the city’s long-history of police brutality, gang violence, and systematic oppression.

And that was the point.

Menace II Society was, above all, the story of forgotten men. While Boyz N the Hood was a story of lost promise, of an invisible war waging in America’s ghettos, there was still a silver lining; after all Tre and Brandi went away to college, one at Morehouse and the other at Spelman. Caine never made it to Atlanta with his girl. Instead he died, right when he had found a reason to live.

And that was what made the tragic film so painful and powerful. After seeing it that opening weekend, I saw it again a few days later with my film buff mother, and afterwards in little Ford Escort, she threw her head into her hands and sobbed. Shocked, I stared at her as she wailed about the “vicious cycle.” I understood, but in my heart, I chose to make up a little story that Caine made it to the hospital and lived. I held that in my heart for years. To this day, when the movie comes on television, I usually turn it off before he gets shot. He was that powerful a protagonist.

The tragedy in Caine’s death was that it seemed so unavoidable. That it was a fate that he knew was hopeless to outrun. Caine’s fate was like so many in the Black community. A waste, a young man who could have been a good father, a good contributor to society. Instead, he was just another one of the lost ones, another brother you tipped the bottle for.

The late, great Roger Ebert, who absolutely loved this film, stated in his 4 star review: He (Caine) has the values of his immediate circle, and the lack of imagination: He cannot envision a world for himself outside of the limited existence of guns, cars, drugs and swagger. This movie, like many others, reminds us that murder is the leading cause of death among young black men. But it doesn’t blame the easy target of white racism for that: It looks unblinkingly at a street culture that offers its members few choices that are not self-destructive.

The Hughes Brothers didn’t blame society for the problems in the hood. But, it didn’t let it off the hook either. It showed, plainly, that there was a cycle of violence going on in the ghetto, and young men, smart men, handsome men, black men, were dying everyday and we were doing nothing about it. The film asked hard questions and demanded answers that still have yet to come. Questions about single motherhood, the growing numbers of grandparents raising kids–co-parenting with the streets, America’s obscenely high incarceration rate, the proliferation of guns in the Black community, and how systematic oppression (lack of access to liveable wage jobs, quality schools, and basic services) just creates more problems for all of us.

20 years later, street culture is celebrated. Films like Menace II Society put faces and images on stories that rappers had started to tell. And those stories only got louder, with driving bass beats to back them. Within months, The Chronic would drop and so would Doggystyle and Los Angeles and “gangster rap” would capture the imagination of America for years.

There is still crime in the Black community, still oppression, still bad schools, still single moms. But, I choose to believe that there has been progress in the last 20 years, and I don’t mean because we have a black President. There have been some decrease in violent crimes in major cities, the war on drugs locked up more than a few good men, but there has been a decrease in drug-related crime. There are more grassroots community programs and agencies in our cities, saving kids one at a time.

So, this year, as I prepare to head to my 20th high school reunion, I can see a movie in my hometown without there being metal detectors.

  • Good article except the line ‘the war on drugs locked more than a few good men up’.. that’s a wonderful oxymoron and I’m on the side that says fuck em and good says more about the person writing this article that he thinks good men got locked up for sellin a man sellin drugs to kids is in jail fuck him he iaint a good person…some ppl need to evaluate what a good person rly is

  • Shad Reed

    Incredible article!

    • BibatheDiva

      Thanks, Shad…

  • Vikram662

    I was 8 when this came out and didn’t see it until it came out on VHS. I remember my brother (two years older) taking me to his buddies house to watch this movie that up until that point I had not idea of. This wasn’t advertised much in Vancouver Canada at the time I guess. I remember sitting in this living room huddled around a tiny TV and having our minds just blown.

    GREAT article!

  • Andre Terrell-Dartavius Smith

    Now that is how you write an article! Not saying no names but some of you other dudes need to take notes!!!

  • tommyhubbard

    Absolutely FANTASTIC! There are a few articles that can hold my attention, but this one did! I’m definitely sharing with my network! Thanks!

  • Excellent article. I’m about the same age as you (class of 95) though I grew up in a rural area but I also remember these movies and the huge impact it made on my young mind. As a guy roughly the same age I really identified with them, and I related to the rebellious attitudes and troublemaking more than I would today as an adult, yet remember feeling sad when they met their demise.

    I don’t think we fully understand what kind of cultural impact these movies may have made on us. Maybe putting faces on these young black men and portraying them as “one of us” may have helped curb the violence rather than glorify it. When you hear about the violence on the news you can become desensitized but these movies personified the violence. While it’s still a problem today it’s nothing like it was 20 years ago, and these movies may have had a part in that.

  • Q.

    Menace had a tough ending–I was hoping Caine’s death was a dream sequence.

    I don’t know if 2013 is better than 1993. IMO, this is a slightly different configuration of the same sh!t…Maybe it’s slightly less aggressive due to the feminization programming of the Black male. Dare I say, education status and economics are worse, overall (all races)…by design, of course.

    • To me, menace had the only possible ending it could have.

      I always watch the ending, if nothing else, to see that Mark jackson looking ninja come out the crib & look both ways like an idiot, before getting into the car to kill Caine!

      That & Sammy Jackson’s part “Ron O’niel.”

  • main0

    First time I watched the movie was probably 5 years after it came out, right before I went to high school. I remember watching the movie over and over again during the summer. Like the guy said I also can’t watch the ending of the film to this day.. So close to freedom and gone in a sec…

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  • DavastatinDave

    “Hurry up with them links nigga im hungry then ah mothafucka ! “

  • ” To this day, when the movie comes on television, I usually turn it off before he gets shot.”..Biba

    Looks like deep down….you got a little gangsta in you. Check out : We All Die One Day – Obie Trice (Feat. Eminem, Lloyd Banks & 50)

    Back when 50 would actually rap. ^^

    “I watch gangsta flicks and root for the bad guy turn it off before it ends because the bad guy dies”-$00.50

    You may not have to go through metal detectors…but best believe big brother is watching you watch the movie. #PoliceState

    Good read, Menace depicted the life of many brothers who lived, fought & died during the crack & gold chain wars.

    *Banging article….stop slacking off & drop them more often. Maybe every Wensday?

  • hoeyuno

    Menace is a classic!!

  • Fight Prohibition with Jury Nullification!

    When called for jury duty on a case concerning a drug violation with no overt act of violence, do not convict! If the offender is non-violent, do not send them to prison! Another person in a federal or state prison for drugs is not going to make society any better or our families any safer, in fact, it WILL do the exact opposite.

    * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.

    * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention, ether before or after taking your seat on a jury.

    * You are also not required to give a reason to your fellow jurors on your position when voting—simply state that you find the accused not guilty.

    * Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. It is of no consequence If the Judge or the other jurors disapprove; there is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

    We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for: Please Vote To Acquit!

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  • We’re better off than we were 20 years ago. That’s a fact. Economics are better, globally. And to me, that’s what counts in the conversation about prosperity; how are people doing globally? Brothas have more opportunity now although many choose to forgo that opportunity in order to do something that has a low success rate. With that said, education is the pivot in all of this. Education is by far, worse then it used to be. So, that we stay out of jail a little better, die a little less in the streets, do less hard drugs, make a little more money (arguable)? It’s kind of rendered null… We’re cultivating a crop of youngsters with less ability to think. That lack of thinking is why millions die in internationally instigated civil wars and famines; it’s why African Americans weren’t able to immediately secure our rights for so long. But I digress. People mistake the wealth gap for a lack of progress. Progress is there, you just have to keep improving yourself to when the upturn happens, you can turn up with it.

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  • brotha_man

    Yo who is it? nick. Yo what up nigga? nothing. Why you always come through the hood so early all the god damn time?

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    good job man!!!! this movie changed my way of thinking.. i mean, i ´m from peru and i live around a neirghborhood where there are a lot of gangs, drug dealers and bad police officers.
    when i saw this movie i was 11 years old…. my brother was a gangster, but he always adviced me no to follow his steps. he did well, because he always show me his clean site. we went to the movies, take a stroll trough the park, spend time with my family(he is my half brother) and spent time talking about graffiti art. etc
    he told me about this movie…..and when i saw it reforced me his advices… really worked it
    i remember i was astonished and shoked when caine died. it was not fair but it´s the reality on the ghettos.
    greetings and let´s remember 20 th years of menace 2 society movieeeeeeeeeee


  • Draco Himself

    Good shit but uhhh… “shoulda came to the Wax boi..”

    • “Gimme my muthafukkin joint back!!” Man on my life, the boy Eiht set that flick off like nobody’s business… “Punk ass nigga, c’mon niggas!!”

      • Draco Himself

        yeah though… nobody else coulda played That part mayne.

  • Mark Olford

    I remember us watching a bootleg copy of this in college when it came out and it had me shook on LA, 2 years later I finished college on an internship in LA and it was a period I truely loved….PAc song To Live and Die in LA was the theme song of that time cause when that came out it really captured what LA was about during the time……

  • Mark Olford

    Oh yeah great read….

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  • llllOllll

    “you owe me some money muthafucka?!”

    “hell no but here you go!”


    One of my top 5 favorite movies. I remember being high as shit and tearing up at the end when Caine got killed, that shit was crazy. My man had got killed in front of me, just before the movie came out and I thought about what was going through his mind when he got hit. Great movie that’s still holds up to this day.

  • disqus_iwrAgrIulH

    in my mind kane didn’t die he some how survived

  • Doszastro

    Damn, I’m feeling this flashback to a classic hood flick. I also saw Menace II Society at the Americana Southfield in the summer of ’93. That’s real deal about the metal detectors cuz a couple of cats and screens got shot up in that spot. I remember they put that damn near airport-like security in there after niggas shot up the screen while watching Another 48 Hours the Eddie Murphy joint. Shout out to the Hughes bros for a timeless classic tho, Caine was that dude.

    • Heart of a Slave, Blood of a k

      I saw it at the Northwest on Grandriver and it was a four way fight after between Puritan Ave, Schoolcraft, P rock (Plymouth ave) and Herman Gardens. I dont know why or how it even started. I remember getting home and not even remembering the movie. The point was lost on most of us. Many talked about how much of a “G” O-dog was.

  • K10z

    Dope article

  • Jahb1911