Recommended American Films on Poverty: Focus on “Hood” Films

American Hood Films


A genre of films whose popularity and critical cache peaked in the early to mid nineties, “hood” films are typically set in urban centers of the United States (with a few notable exceptions).  Featuring racial minorities struggling to survive and/ or escape the poverty, drugs and gang violence of the inner city, these films center on the difficult and often thwarted development of young, usually black, male masculinity.  In addition, these films often depict intra and inter racial hostility and violence and inter generational conflict typified, respectively, in the recurring figures of the convenience/ liquor store and the elderly authority figure.

Do the Right Thing (1989) (93%) Spike Lee- NY

  Taking place in a single hot summer day in New York, this Spike Lee film follows Mookie (Spike Lee) though his work day as a pizza delivery man for a (somewhat) racist Italian pizzeria owner.  Tensions between the pizzeria owner and the mostly African-American community he serves reach a boiling point and the police are called, resulting in the death of a young black male. In retaliation, the community sets fire to the pizzeria which it sees as a symbol of racial oppression and exploitation. The film ends with a statement from the mayor’s office, referencing the previous days events, stating that property damage will not be tolerated by anyone, with no mention of the brutal police murder that precipitated it.

Do The Right Thing at 25:

1989 Review:


Boyz n the Hood (1991) (96%) John Singleton- LA

Boyz n the Hood follows three friends from childhood through adolescents as they attempt to navigate, in various ways, the South Central “ghetto”.  The film begins by following Tre, a smart but insolent child sent to live with his father. In his new neighborhood he meets Ricky and his brother Doughboy. As they near adulthood, Tre prepares for college as does Ricky,  a star athlete and now a father, while Doughboy rises in the ranks of a local gang. Ultimately, Ricky is killed in the streets because of Doughboy’s affiliations. Only Tre makes it out of the “hood” to an historically black college; barely and only with the help of an authoritative father, navigating to adulthood.





Straight Outta Brooklyn (1991) (86%) Matty Rich

This film focuses on a struggling family in a Brooklyn housing project. It begins in a drunken, frustrated eruption of violence as the family’s patriarch breaks every dish in sight. His outbursts of frustration at racial discrimination and poverty prompt his son to seek an escape from the housing projects by robbing a local drug dealer. The repercussions of this act result in, directly and indirectly, the death of two family members.




Juice (1992) (83%) Ernest Dickerson – NY

Juice follows four high school friends as they progress from petty crime to a murder that tears the group apart.  Frustrated by their lack of “juice”, street respect,  the group agrees to rob a convenience store which results in the death of  the clerk and ultimately one of the foursome is killed by another. The remainder of the movie is spent depicting the suspicion and anger which decimates the group, leaving only one with the juice.



Menace II Society (1993) (85%) Allen and Albert Hughes- LA

After opening with the double murder of an Asian couple in their convenience/ liquor store, Menace II Society makes its politics explicit by connecting contemporary inner city violence and drug use to the post civil right inner city violence of the 1960s and intergenerational heritage. The story focuses on Caine and O-Dog. As Caine longs to escape the projects and is the continual victim of violence, O-Dog becomes increasingly violent and unpredictable. The film follows Caine as he struggles to survive what he terms as “long summer.”





Fresh (1994) (89%) Boaz Yakin – NY

This film follows, Fresh, a young boy living in his saintly aunt’s overcrowded apartments  while dealing drugs. Through the film, Fresh struggles to protect his sister, a much desired drug addict who sees herself as worthless, from his boss. The film culminates with Fresh’s choice to protect his sister from his boss by turning him in to the police: a move that both saves her and necessitates their leaving the “hood.” The film ends with the hardened and generally unaffected Fresh crying in a game of chess with his absentee father.



See also 

New Jack City (1991) (76%)

Clockers (1995) (%67)


–Megan Finch

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