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10 Hardcore Facts About New Jack City

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The late 1980s and early 1990s were tough years for some parts of America. Drugs, police brutality, and poverty combined to form a recipe for disaster, and it was in that environment that New Jack City hit theaters on March 8, 1991. A reflection of the times but also a cautionary tale for poor people in urban communities, the film is regarded as one of the most gritty and real films about drugs and violence ever made. For better or worse, characters like Nino Brown have become iconic symbols of pop culture. On the occasion of New Jack City’s 25th anniversary, here are 10 facts about the influential film.


Mario Van Peebles—an actor and the son of filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles—has admitted that making his debut as a feature director with New Jack City was tough. He had directed episodes of shows like 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy, but the film was a different beast, especially in terms of the tone. “It's tricky,” he told The Morning Call. “New Jack is a dangerous movie to make, I didn't want to do a direct glorification of the Tone-Loc lifestyle. I had to be careful about that. I thought about the old Scarface movie, which was probably meant as a deterrent to crime because it depicts all the violence of that kind of lifestyle. But for kids who don't have any way out, 'Live Fast and Die Young' is like a motto. For people with no opportunities, gangsters become role models."


Many critics—and audiences—gave the film favorable reviews and praised the actors for their realistic portrayals. The budget for New Jack City was $8 million, but the film went on to make just over $47.6 million domestically. The soundtrack was also a big success, reaching number one on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart and number two on the Billboard Top 200, thanks to songs by Color Me Badd, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, and one of the lead actors, Ice T.


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Snipes auditioned for Martin Scorsese and Quincy Jones to play the tough guy in the short film for Michael Jackson’s 1987 song, "Bad." New Jack City co-writer Barry Michael Cooper told Ebony magazine that he wrote the Nino Brown role specifically for Snipes after seeing his performance in that video. “Wesley’s finger-in-the-face questioning of Michael Jackson’s bravery was so realistic that I thought Scorsese had hired a homeboy off the streets,” said Cooper.


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Though today Ice T is widely known for the 16 years he has spent on Law and Order: SVU, he used to have a very different career. Prior to 1991, Ice T had established himself as a rapper and was building a body of work that is now regarded as an essential part of the framework for gangster rap. In his autobiography, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption—From South Central to Hollywood, Ice T recounted how he got the gig by being in the right place at the right time.

That place was a nightclub, and director Mario Van Peebles was also there that night. “Mario said he overheard me talking sh*t in the bathroom,” Ice T wrote. “I don’t remember this exactly, but apparently I was telling someone: ‘The problem is, if they could put me under a microscope and find one molecule of me that gave a f*ck, then they’d have a chance.’” Van Peebles liked what he heard and told someone that “whoever said that is going to be the star of my next movie.” He found Ice T in the club, gave him his number, and convinced the rapper to contact him the next day.


After he was given the script and realized that his character, Scotty Appleton, was a cop, Ice T was hesitant. His lifestyle and his music represented the exact opposite of what he would have to play on screen. "I started to survey all the people around me, people whose opinions I trusted the most," Ice T wrote in Ice.  "'Yo, I got offered this movie role,' I said over and over. 'But here's the thing: they want me to be the man. I thought my old crime partners might start laughing. Or snap my head off. But they all had the same response. They got these puppy faces, turned real quiet for for a moment, then asked me, 'Word? Ice, could I be in the movie?'"


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Chris Rock’s portrayal of the drug addict Pookie earned him praise from Roger Ebert and other reviewers, but he was not the first choice for the role. In a recent interview about the legacy of New Jack City, screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper revealed that comedian Martin Lawrence had the better audition and had secured the part. “He’ll admit it himself, his audition wasn’t great, at all,” Cooper said of Chris Rock. “Martin Lawrence, he came in and killed that audition. The person taping had to shut the camera off; everybody was on the floor [laughing].”

But shortly before production began, Lawrence’s mentor and fellow comedian Robin Harris passed away. “He didn’t take it well,” Cooper said. “He stepped out of the movie, and that’s when they gave the role to Chris Rock.” Lawrence later referenced the film in an episode of his sitcom, Martin, dressing like and quoting Snipes’ Nino Brown character while dragging around a stuffed dog.


New Jack City and John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood, another film that dealt with drugs, violence, and black communities, were released within six months of one another. Five days before New Jack City hit theaters, Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD officers and the footage was broadcast to the world. New Jack City was cited as the cause for various disturbances and acts of violence in cities like New York and Los Angeles, which led to it being pulled from some theaters.

“Mann’s Theater sold out tickets for the film’s opening night and a mob of pissed-off kids, frustrated that they couldn’t get inside, started smashing store windows and vandalizing cars,” Ice T wrote in his memoir. He called the notion that the film’s content was to blame “total bullsh*t” and said that anyone who shoots someone at a movie theater came there with that idea.


Barry Michael Cooper recently revealed that the name Nino Brown was a reference to his own sartorial experiences growing up in Harlem in the 1970s. Cooper refers to a group of “scramblin’ guys” (the idols of neighborhood) who would shop at expensive boutiques in Manhattan. After window shopping at one store, Cooper inquired about the price of a pair of loafers and was told that they were $105. “I had a Neighborhood Youth Core job after school, and I saved up six of my $45-dollar-a-week checks to buy those shoes, before I went to my first—and last year—at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina,” Cooper said. “The icing on the cake was the Nino Gabriele store shopping bag. It looked like this ultra-fly plastic valise, in shades of brown and tan, with the name ‘Nino Gabriele’ written in an art-deco style.”

The bag earned Cooper respect, and the memory inspired him to name the film's lead character.


In an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, Chris Rock spoke about how “easy” it was to be Pookie in the early ‘90s because he had real-life experience with people who did and sold crack cocaine. “Crack and the VCR, and the portable recorder came out at the same time,” Rock told James Lipton. “Worst combination ever ... Unlike heroin and opium and all the other great drug plagues of the century, crack, you could see it ... I wasn’t on crack, but we all were kind of on crack at the time.”

For years after making the film, Rock said that something bizarre would happen to him: drug dealers would say hello to him on the street, give him a hug, and slip crack or cocaine into his pockets.


In his interview with Ambrosia For Heads, Barry Michael Cooper said that he has written and is writing a precursor to the New Jack City story, as well as a follow-up to the 25-year-old story called Am I My Brother’s Keeper, after one of the most iconic lines from the film. “This goes into Nino’s childhood, man—Nicholas,” Cooper said. “That’s his name: Nicholas Brown.” Cooper said that the prequel focuses on Brown’s upbringing in Harlem and what led his life down the path that it takes in the film.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]


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