Art, indeed, imitates life


This is a story about the power of art to improve our lives. Admittedly, this story may be nothing more than a fantasy-- but no, I prefer to dream.

Therefore, this is indeed a story about the power of art to improve our lives.

"Boyz N the Hood" -- the hard-edged, gut-wrenching movie about life in the inner city -- opened in movie theaters around the country Friday, and right away there was violence.

A 23-year-old man was shot to death at a drive-in outside Chicago. Three people were wounded when somebody opened fire inside a Los Angeles movie theater. Two people were hit after a drive-by shooting outside a theater in Minneapolis.

In all, reporters counted more than a dozen shooting incidents this weekend with nearly three dozen people killed or wounded. In response, at least eight theaters pulled the movie off the screen and the debate about these types of movies has begun.

Do movies depicting the drugs and the violence of American cities glorify that lifestyle, thereby promoting it? Or do these types of movies merely attract hoodlums who bring their violence to the theater with them?

Some people have tried to argue that the dozen or so shooting incidents had nothing to do either with the content of the movie or the character of its audience.

But they are either fools, or liars, or poorer dreamers -- even than I. Note that Walt Disney's "101 Dalmatians" also opened at movie theaters around the country Friday and there was not one reported shooting -- anywhere.

Still, I don't believe movies such as "Boyz N the Hood" are the source of urban violence.

I believe they may be closer to the solution.

For decades now, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and even Mel Gibson have celebrated a cult of the gun so intense that it is almost sexual and certainly sick.

Then there are the "artsy" gangster movies such as the "Godfather" trilogy and "Scarface" and "Once Upon A Time in America," which have promoted violence and corruption as the keys to success.

Finally, there are the slasher films, which, I suppose, celebrate gore for its own sake.

These movies, written, directed and produced by whites and all celebrating white heroes, feature violence as an American way of life. They offer violence without consequences. Violence without pain. Violence as the key to success, the chosen tool of power and authority.

This paper has a movie critic who keeps asking, with a mixture of incredulity and despair, "Do any of these movie makers have kids?" That is exactly the point.

Strong families spend a good part of their energies inoculating children with what I call anti-movie values, values that stress family and community and faith and brotherhood, a counterculture to the greed and mayhem we see on the screen.

But in our inner cities, an increasing number of youths grow up in families that are fractured and weak, and they live in communities where schools are underfunded and churches overwhelmed.

Thus, there is no one to protect these children from television and the movies. No one to say, "This is not how decent people behave." They are society's children. Moral orphans. Not Ready for Prime Time Killers.

Now, however, we see a spate of movies -- written and directed by blacks and starring hitherto starving black performers -- with a sense of moral responsibility that better-financed, mainstream white film makers apparently do not share.

For instance, "Boyz N the Hood" shoved us face first into the the unremitting pain that is the consequence of urban violence, and never let us up for air. "New Jack City" and "Jungle Fever" showed us more about the corrupting, soul-destroying effects of cocaine addiction, than I ever hope to see again.

Note that virtually all of the incidents accompanying the opening of "Boyz N the Hood" occurred before the lights dimmed. I bet a whole bunch of somber-faced hoodlums went slinking home afterward, there to contemplate, if even for a minute, the ugliness of their lives.

Art has that kind of power. Art can make a difference -- even if it is too subtle and too slow for mere mortals to detect. I admit that this is but a dream, a statement of faith.

But I am not alone. The creators behind many of the new urban-oriented, black on black movies appear to share this faith in the curative powers of art.

And someday, we will see a difference.

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