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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.

1. IT WAS MARIO VAN PEEBLES’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT. 

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."

2. IT WAS A FINANCIAL AND CRITICAL SUCCESS. 

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.

3. WESLEY SNIPES HAS MICHAEL JACKSON’S "BAD" VIDEO TO THANK FOR LANDING THE ROLE OF NINO BROWN.

Kelly Gentili on YouTube


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.

4. ICE T WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF SCOTTY BECAUSE OF A NIGHTCLUB CONVERSATION.


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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.

5. ICE T WAS LUKEWARM ON THE IDEA OF PLAYING AN UNDERCOVER NEW YORK CITY COP.

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?'"

6. MARTIN LAWRENCE WAS THE ORIGINAL POOKIE.

Walter Latham Comedy on YouTube

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.

7. THERE WAS SOME CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE RELEASE.

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.

8. THE NAME "NINO BROWN" CAME FROM A SHOPPING BAG.

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.

9. CHRIS ROCK SAID IT WAS "EASY" TO BE POOKIE.

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.

10. THERE IS A PREQUEL AND A SEQUEL.

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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crime
The Terrible Crime at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin 
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
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Some of the most horrific murders in Wisconsin history involved none other than famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was in the middle of building a home, which he named Taliesin, for himself and his mistress in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He had recently left his wife and six children for Martha "Mamah" Borthwick, whose husband Edwin Cheney had commissioned Wright to build a house in Oak Park, Illinois. Cheney may have a gained a Frank Lloyd Wright house, but he lost his wife—Mamah and Wright became close, even traveling to Europe together, sans spouses, in 1909. The Cheneys divorced in 1911; Wright’s divorce would take more than another decade to be finalized.

On August 15, 1914, Wright was away attending to the construction of Midway Gardens in Chicago when he got a terrible message. “Taliesin destroyed by fire,” it read, and that was all. For the time being, at least, Wright was spared the details: Their servant, Julian Carlton, had attacked Mamah, her children, and Taliesin workmen, pouring gasoline under the door and setting the home ablaze. When some of the victims broke windows and tried to escape, Carlton hacked at them from outside of the house with a hatchet.

The Ogden Standard, September 5, 1914
A news account of the tragedy, September 5, 1914
Library of Congress // Public Domain

While precise accounts of the crime vary, according to biographer William Drennan, Carlton first killed Mamah and her two children, 8-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, while they were eating lunch on a porch, bludgeoning them with a hatchet. Once Carlton had taken care of them, he went to a dining room where the workmen were eating, locked them in, and set fire to the place.

In the end, eight people died—seven victims and the murderer himself. The victims included Mamah and her children, draftsman Emil Brodelle, gardener David Lindblom, handyman Tom Brunker, and Ernest Weston, the son of carpenter William Weston.

The murderer didn’t die right away, though. He swallowed hydrochloric acid soon after the attack, and died of starvation about seven weeks later. Despite being questioned, Carlton never did give a motive for his killing spree. There’s some evidence to suggest a series of disputes with the workers, however, and that Carlton had recently been told he was being terminated.

Taliesin
Taliesin as it looks today
edward stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As for the absolutely devastated Frank Lloyd Wright, he rebuilt Taliesin in Mamah’s honor. The land may have been cursed, however, because this second reincarnation of the house was also destroyed by fire. In 1925, a lightning storm apparently ignited the wiring, sparking a conflagration that eventually burned the house down. Not one to be deterred, Wright built Taliesin III on the same spot. Today, the home is open for tours and events.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

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8 Animals That Have Been Imprisoned or Arrested
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iStock

It might seem like a case of animals just being animals, but when eight donkeys in northern India recently ate nearly $1000 worth of greenery in their small town, they did four days in the big house. (Perhaps part of the problem? They ate expensive saplings that were planted right near the jail. Rookie mistake.) But whether they harmed property or people, were in cahoots with human outlaws, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, these eight other critters are proof that "crime" can sometimes be cuddly.

1. THE PIGEON THAT WAS ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF ESPIONAGE.

In 2015, officials in India arrested a pigeon they suspected was a spy. The bird’s body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu—Pakistan’s official language—and what appeared to be a Pakistani phone number. It had landed in a village close to the country’s shared border with Pakistan, near the Kashmir region that’s claimed by both countries and has been the subject of multiple wars between India and Pakistan beginning in 1947. Though there was a ceasefire in 1972 (the current situation is that India controls 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan 35 percent, and China 20 percent), because both countries believe they have rights to the area, it's frequently the site of military clashes and infiltration.

So when a 14-year-old boy found the suspicious-looking pigeon so close to Kashmir, he turned it over to authorities. The officials took it to a veterinary hospital for x-rays, and though they couldn’t find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play, they kept the bird in custody, recording it as a “suspected spy” in their police diary.

That said, not everyone took the news as seriously as the Indian police did: In the days following the bird’s arrest, Pakistani social media was flooded with memes depicting the feathered detainee as a slick 007 type, and amused internet users coined hashtags like #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon.

2. THE BEAVER THAT WAS APPREHENDED FOR A DESTRUCTIVE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SESSION.

In December 2016, a wild beaver must have decided that forest trees weren’t festive enough, because it wandered into a dollar store in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, to browse Christmas trees and decorations. Workers noticed the animal knocking items onto the floor, and called the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

Captain Yingling of the sheriff's office arrived on scene to prevent the "shopping" beaver from ruining the store. “The suspect attempted to flee the area but was apprehended by Animal Control,” the sheriff's department joked on their Facebook page.

Instead of allowing the beaver to finish up its holiday shopping, the St. Mary's County Sheriff handed the critter over to a wildlife rehab center. As for the police, they said the quirky incident just marked another day on the job: “As a law enforcement officer, you just never know what your next call may be...” they mused on Facebook.

3. THE FOUL-MOUTHED PARROT IN INDIA THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR REPEATEDLY INSULTING HIS OWNER'S STEPMOTHER.

In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra taught a foul-mouthed parrot named Hariyal a lesson in politeness after they “arrested” it for swearing at an elderly woman named Janabai. According to locals, the pet bird had picked up the rude habit from Janabi’s stepson, Suresh Sakharkar. The two were embroiled in an ugly property dispute, and the latter had reportedly spent the prior two years training Hariyal to spout epithets whenever the estranged relation walked past his house.

The situation escalated, and Janabi, Suresh, and his bird were eventually called to the police station. “Police should investigate and seize the parrot,” the embittered stepmother told Indian news channel Zee News. That said, Hariyal must have known he was in hot water, because he kept his beak shut. “We watched the parrot carefully but it did not utter a word at the police station after being confronted by the complainant,” a police inspector told reporters.

Instead of locking Hariyal up, officials gave the parrot over to Maharashtra’s forestry department, where he can presumably fly—and curse—freely for the remainder of his life.

4. THE SQUIRREL THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR "STALKING" A GERMAN WOMAN.

While walking down the street in the West German city of Bottrop in 2015, a woman realized that she had attracted a furry stalker: a tiny red squirrel. The animal was chasing her and acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called the police for help. Authorities captured the squirrel, “arrested” it, and brought it back to the station. There, they discovered that the critter was suffering from exhaustion.

Police helped nurse the squirrel back to health by feeding it honey, and a spokesman said the squirrel would be sent to a rescue center instead of languishing away in a cell for its stalkerish habits.

5. THE BAD MONKEYS IN INDIA THAT WERE IMPRISONED IN "MONKEY JAIL."

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In 2004, a rogue monkey became infamous for terrorizing residents of the city of Patiala, in India’s northern Punjab region. The monkey was guilty of multiple crimes: It stole food from homes, ripped the buttons off people's shirts, threatened kids with bricks, and once even swiped someone’s math textbooks and calculator. To keep the marauding jungle creature off the streets, officials sentenced it to “monkey jail”—a now-defunct detainment center in Patiala that was reserved for ill-behaving primates.

The “monkey jail"—which appears to have operated from 1996 until the mid-2000s—was located in the corner of a local zoo. The 15-foot-wide barred cell was secured with chain-link fencing and wire mesh, and had a sign that read: "These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous."

Punjab is filled with countless wild Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. Some of the animals have moved into cities and towns in search of food, as humans continue to destroy their natural jungle habitat. Others were once used as animal guards, or trained as performing monkeys, and were set loose by their owners once they turned violent. Particularly ill-treated or mischievous primates have been known to destroy property and pester—or even attack—humans. But since Hindus revere Hanuman, the monkey god, killing the creatures is verboten.

Wildlife officers in Punjab took matters into their own hands by opening the monkey jail. They responded to public complaints by capturing the creatures with trapping cages and tranquilizer guns. Once the monkeys were locked up, there was little to no chance of "parole."

As of 2004, there were 13 jailed monkeys, all imprisoned for harassing people or committing petty crimes. Patiala’s primate penitentiary was eventually closed, and authorities announced it was going to be replaced by “reform school" that's intended to train the monkeys to be less aggressive.

6. THE CAT WHO WAS DETAINED FOR HELPING OUT WITH A PRISON BREAK.

On New Year’s Day 2013, a cat took the heat for scheming Brazilian inmates who were likely either planning a jailbreak or attempting to communicate with outlaws on the outside. The white feline was slinking around the main gates of a medium-security prison in Arapiraca—a city in northeast Brazil—when guards noticed that its body was wrapped in tape. They apprehended the kitty, and discovered that it was carrying items including several saws and drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries, and a phone charger.

Prison officer Luiz de Oliveira Souza told reporters that the cat had been seen entering and exiting the jail before. It had been raised by inmates, and was often in the custody of one of their families. However, officials couldn’t figure out which of the jail’s 263 prisoners had tried to use the feline for their own nefarious purposes: “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak,” a prison spokesperson told local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo.

Following the cat’s “arrest” and brief imprisonment, it was taken to a local animal shelter to receive medical treatment.

7. THE TOUGH PRISON PET THAT WAS ACTUALLY A VERY GOOD BOY.

Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary

Unlike some animals on this list, Pep the dog was a very good boy. But in 1924, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced the dark-haired Labrador to a life sentence without parole. Pep was taken to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, where officials jokingly gave him his own inmate number and mug shot. Reporters nicknamed the canine "Pep The Cat-Murdering Dog," as he was said to have killed the governor’s wife’s cat.

Thanks to all the media hype, Pep had quite the tough reputation. But a few years after the canine’s imprisonment, the governor’s wife, Cornelia Pinchot, set the story straight in an interview with The New York Times. Turns out, Pep had never murdered her pet feline; her family simply bred Labradors, and owned too many dogs. Pep, she said, was a gift to the prisoners to lift their spirits.

Today, researchers say that partisan journalists twisted the facts around, and that Pep was actually a beloved prison pet that freely wandered the hallways and was adored by all. As for the "life sentence without parole" part, the Lab was eventually moved to a newer prison; when he died, he was buried on its grounds.

8. THE FEISTY DONKEY IN MEXICO THAT WAS LOCKED UP TO SETTLE A SCORE.

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In 2008, police in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas arrested a feisty donkey named Blacky after it bit a man in the chest, and kicked a second man trying to rescue him. Police apprehended the burro and locked it in the jail’s drunk tank. “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed, no matter who they are,” said Officer Sinar Gomez.

Police said that the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner, Mauro Gutierrez, paid the injured parties’ medical bills and salary for the days they missed work. The boisterous burro served three days in jail, and Gutierrez settled the score by paying Blacky's victims.

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