As of late, it would appear that Hollywood thinks it’s doing those of us old enough to have achy knees and a robust sense of nostalgia a favor by bombarding us with remakes to film and television classics. We see it across all media, but when it hits properties that us old heads love, Black Twitter usually has something to say about it.
There was that Lena Waithe-produced Boomerang television spinoff that no one I know who watched the groundbreaking 1992 Reginald Hudlin film was excited about, yet was apparently good enough to earn a second season on BET.
There was also the completely unnecessary, inferior-by-every measure, beat-by-beat remake of The Lion King, which billed itself as a “live action” remake despite still being animated as f—. (Any animated film featuring lions set in Africa and featuring James Earl Jones is a black film, as far as I’m concerned). As was the case with Will Smith shucking in the Aladdin remake, it just made everyone want to re-watch the original.
There’s also the recently-announced Set it Off remake, produced by and starring Issa Rae. Look…I love Rae, but F. Gary Gray created the 1996 original film with a pitch-black, nearly humor-free tone; I’m having a hard time picturing Issa Rae bumbling through the film with her signature doe-eyed confusion, cracking dry jokes as she runs in to rob a bank. Even OG stars Vivica Fox and Jada Pinkett think the original needs to be left alone.
But now they’ve gone a Brooklyn Bridge too far with this week’s announcement that a New Jack City remake is in the works. A cursory glance at Twitter or any social media feed involving Black folks seems to suggest that this is a terrible idea, and that no one anywhere asked for a remake to the Mario Van Peebles-directed 1991 classic.
You know… there’s black movies that can withstand remakes because they’re universal stories that repeat through time periods. New Jack City is… not one of them. https://t.co/0CyFx86n2a
— Ira thee Third (@ira) September 24, 2019
I think the New Jack remake is receiving a viscerally negative reaction for manifold reasons – chief among them the fact that the original is fine as it is. Sure, there’s Ice-T’s atrocious acting as well as a few now-cliched cinematic flourishes (see: thunderstorms every time Pookie is having a bad crack day). But the film is as entertaining to watch now as it was 28 years ago, and folks don’t clamor to see material that stands the test of time remade. In contrast, the 1990 television version of IT was terrifying and terrible; a remake made sense, and the first chapter still holds the record for highest domestic opening weekend for an R-rated film.
Also, the original New Jack City focused on the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early-1990s. That epidemic no longer exists, so will Nino Brown be the baron of – pills? Will Pookie be played by a white teenager slowly losing his way to Xanax? And who’s being cast to out-Nino Wesley Snipes in what remains his signature role after nearly three decades?
New Jack City represents a very specific era. An era that doesn’t exist today. There is no need for a reboot. https://t.co/2Q2D4ojcZq
— Beth Pearson stan account (@_misskj) September 24, 2019
The central issue here is that Hollywood is deep in the zeitgeist of nostalgic cash grabs, always looking to profit from a built-in audience who will fondly reflect on how a property made them feel when they were kids while also courting a newer, younger audience. Sometimes it works well (see: IT), but many of these remakes quickly fade into obscurity (Pet Sematary, Hellboy) or are so lame they threaten the otherwise good reputation of a franchise (the Ghostbusters remake, that atrocious-looking upcoming Charlie’s Angels).
In the era of superhero films and animated Disney/Pixar projects racking up the largest box office returns, Hollywood seems a bit risk-averse, unwilling to back the substantive character-driven films that were omnipresent at the cinema when I was a teenager in the 1990s.
It’s a shame because films like Moonlight and anything Ryan Coogler touches have proven that a good story with good actors will always result in a robust audience. Speaking of Coogler, the Creed films prove that you can make good sequels to classic films. I’m certainly looking forward to Top Gun: Maverick, and I think we’re all looking forward to Coming 2 America.
But as long as remakes like The Lion King and Aladdin clean up at the box office, the folks in charge will continue messing with classics like New Jack City. I suppose the only way to get them to leave our Black classics alone is to stay home from the theater, avoid streaming these bastardized remakes and do what we do best: air out our grievances on Black Twitter.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.