After months of closures, there are only days left until cinemas can finally begin opening again across the UK – ready to welcome in socially-distanced moviegoers for all kinds of fresh cinematic adventures. As we prepare to re-enter the multiplexes, arthouses, independents and more, Empire presents a series of essays from the Greatest Cinema Moments Ever issue, featuring Hollywood’s finest opening up about about their most memorable big-screen experiences. Here’s Patty Jenkins on the profound power of Menace II Society and more.
A particularly remarkable theatrical screening experience I had, that always sticks in my mind, was the first time I saw Menace II Society. I was on 86th and Broadway, in New York City, and because it’s fairly far uptown, there was a healthily diverse crowd. Boyz N The Hood had already come out, and that was such a fantastic film that really was so revolutionary, we all expected more of the same. However, when Menace II Society started, suddenly every moment we expected to go lyrical or romantic in its poetic portrayal of the violence in the African-American community just went hard in the other direction. Instead of a poetic death, we were left sitting in the reality of that violence as someone slowly and unromantically dies, and for no reason and with no glory.
The entire audience just flipped out. It was as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing and didn’t know what to do with themselves. People were standing up. Walking into the aisles, and clutching their heads. The audience was just totally shaken, myself included. The actual truth of so many in the audience’s actual experiences of being Black in America being reflected back at them with all of the edge and honesty of that truth. And for the rest of us, we were getting a raw glimpse of what real violence and tragedy is. Not cool. Not fun. Not grand. Just tragic.
I think that the reaction that film had on people definitely influenced me to challenge myself to find that same level of truth when I was making Monster, years later, and I’ve never forgotten how radically it affected that audience I saw it with and my realisation that film could really do that.
Originally published in Empire's March 2021 issue.