The American Cinematheque kicked off the ‘Perpetratin Realism: 1990’s Black Film’ Series this weekend at the Regency Westwood Village Theatre with a 35MM screening of the 1991 classic “NEW JACK CITY” introduced by, and featuring a post-screening Q&A with director/actor Mario Van Peebles.
NEW JACK CITY opened in theatres on March 8, 1991, just four days after television outlets released the video of LAPD officers beating Rodney King. The film’s premiere became the setting for brawls and gun violence in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas, resulting in at least one death. In Los Angeles, Westwood’s Mann Theatre overbooked the premiere, leaving ticketholders outside without seats. The resulting “Rampage in Westwood,” the name given premiere night by the Los Angeles Times, saw rioting, looting, and police intervention. Interviewed for the LA Times, Ava DuVernay, then an 18 year old student at UCLA, explained that the Mann Village Theatre’s decision to shut down NEW JACK CITY is because “they don’t want black people in Westwood,” paralleling a similar panic around the premiere of Spike Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES. “They’re using (NEW JACK CITY) as an excuse. They’re afraid this place is attracting too many black people, basically.”
Despite the violence and fearmongering surrounding NEW JACK CITY, the film garnered commercial success. With over $47 million in ticket sales and a platinum soundtrack, NEW JACK CITY became the top-grossing independent film of 1991 and the first movie of the “gangsta” or “hood” film cycle that dominated Black cinema through much of the 90s. [American Cinematheque]