Monday, February 11, 2013

New Jack Nino Browns

I was watching one of my favorite urban films the other night, New Jack City, and I still remember the sensational energy surrounding the film 20 years ago as if it were just released. There’s the element of power that a lot of us feel when watching these type of gangster/action films that for fleeting moments we almost think we know these characters or could live like these characters live, in our minds. Or do we actually know some young people already living out these characters in real life?

Nino Brown, the nemesis in the film, was revered as the epitome of power and manhood to the kids and thugs in the film. He lived among the people in the poor neighborhood but he also built an enterprise off the demise of the same people he earned his high end lifestyle. He sold crack to people in his community then he later moved out of the neighborhood so he wouldn’t see the consequences of his bad decisions nor feel threatened by the chaos and madness he helped create. Nino had a strategy, a loyal following and regular poor but paying customers. Yet what he didn’t have was a conscience to care about what he did to others.

I’ve heard Nino Brown described as using empowerment tactics--executing a plan, incorporating principles of other poor immigrant communities who thrusted themselves out of poverty, a team and backup plans--that entrepreneurs have successfully used to build and maintain a business. But how do so many men, particularly men of color, use empowerment tactics to become Nino and not Harry(Belafonte) or Sidney(Poitier) or Russell(Simmons)? Why is the fast life and deplorable tactics more enticing than the tactics that will sustain you and keep you alive? Harry, Sidney and Russell are not poor, unrecognizable or under-respected men. They are privileged, attractive, thriving, aging, wise men. Where is the cool in that, I ask?


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