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Curb films of urban violence

This editorial is reprinted from the New York Times.

In the language of urban America, the word "juice" refers to influence that's often won through violence or intimidation. The guy with the most juice is the guy who's most likely to have gunned down a rival in the street.

"Juice" is also the name of a movie that opened to shootouts, knifings and fights in a half-dozen cities. The danger is sufficiently great that Paramount Pictures underwrites extra security for movie houses where Juice is shown.

There were similar outbreaks at the openings of John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood and Mario Van Peebles's New Jack City, two other films that dealt with urban violence by young black men.

Movies about raw urban violence are a necessary part of the American experience. But films like Juice are clearly packaged to appeal to the most violent segments of the audience. Hollywood needs to change those marketing tactics before the violence makes showings impossible.

True, most of the violence happened outside the theaters and much of it was probably carried out by people who never saw Juice. They didn't have to; the ad campaign was plenty. The poster shows four young black men above a caption that reads: "Juice. Power. Respect. How far will you go to get it?" The question's implicit answer is, as far as necessary.

The movie centers on four young men from Harlem who skip school, shoplift, then stage a robbery in which one of them murders a storekeeper. He also kills a friend from the robbery crew, and tries to murder the remaining two.

The director, Ernest Dickerson, intended to condemn senseless killing. He failed. Juice compounds a problem that was evident in its predecessors: It's so caught up in the culture of violence that it treats the moral consequences as an afterthought.

Similar things could be said of other violent films, like Terminator 2 or the latest installment of Nightmare on Elm Street. But those unrealistic films don't draw gun-toting moviegoers. The difference is that Juice and its cousins dwell on specific forms of violence that their audiences know well and even participate in.

That link calls for restraint, especially from marketing strategists. It's fine for these films to embrace the language and music of the streets. But Hollywood needs to take special care not to embrace the violence as well.

New York Times News Service