Belly (1998)

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hr 36 min

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 13%/88%

Belly is an urban crime drama starring Nasir “Nas” Jones and Earl “DMX” Simmons as Sincere and Tommie aka “Buns”, two friends that are also local drug dealers/stick up kids looking to get in on this super drug that is being supplied by a Jamaican king pin. Like all of these drug dealer films, one character (Sincere) is the wholesome family type that really is only doing this to get his family away from it all and to a “better place” and the other one (Tommie “Buns”) is the loose cannon that loves the lifestyle and will do anything for more money. Belly is what we in the Black Community refer to as a “hood classic” which means, it may or may not be the best film but for whatever it is very popular with Black folks and it is sacrilegious to say anything bad about it. But has this movie held up over the years and did it rightfully earn the title of “hood classic”?

The Good:

There are very few that could argue that the cinematography in this film is not up there with some higher budget films. Malik Sayeed set up some gorgeous scenes and really captured imagery worthy of a Spike Lee Joint (he was also the cinematographer for He Got Game, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Eye’s Wide Shut, and another “hood classic” The Player’s Club). His style is appropriate for a lot of these projects because he seems to have a dark style and likes to utilize different colors, textures, and hues to tell a story. So from a visual standpoint, this film definitely stands the test of time.

Louie Rankin as Jamaican King Pin Lennox was great! They literally could have made a movie (with subtitles) just around this character and I would have been here for it! He gave a performance that was just too good for this film quite frankly. The only downside was that his heavy accent was sometimes hard to understand but subtitles could take care of that.

The Bad:

I am going to bring up a topic that I usually would not in this blog because my purpose is to give my opinion on movies and TV series in the hopes that it will help you decided if you want to watch that particular movie/series or not. But in thinking about this film I started to question, are hood classic films held to any type of cinematic standards? and why don’t we demand more from Black filmmakers?

While I can see that Belly was heavily influenced by Menace II Society (yes, another “hood classic”) was this film really needed? In my opinion, no. It was just another heavily stereotypical film that glorified gun violence, drugs, misogyny, and violence against women. There was a half-ass attempt at a screenplay but when your main writers are a rapper and a music video director, one would assume there might be some issues there. At 16 years old, I thought this movie was EVERYTHING but catch that….I…WAS…16…YEARS…OLD; watching this as a 30-something adult and I can see that this film is all over the place. Even though I had seen this film once before, I could not keep up with what was happening on the screen. The plot is a jumbled mess and the ending was a cop out.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with gangster movies. I enjoyed Scarface, The Godfather, and Once Upon a Time in America but the difference between these films and these alleged “hood classics” is that these films only pop up every few years, not every month! I will not deny that the things that happen in these films could be the black experience for some but it is definitely not the experience of all. And while people talk about how they are tired of seeing black folks play slaves, how are you not tired of seeing black folks play criminals?! Menace II Society wasn’t the best but it was good and relevant for it’s time. Boyz in the Hood, again, was relevant and spoke to the issues of police brutality, gang violence, teen sex, family dysfunction, and so many other things that are relevant to today. New Jack City is a classic and rightfully so! It talked about the impact that crack had on the black community. These films set out to prove a point and executed it well.

So, it can be done but why do we get and heavily support movies like Belly, Paid in Full, True to the Game, Get Rich or Die Trying, and Bout it? Other cultures have their version of “hood classics” but the difference is that they understand the absurdity of the films and the cringe factor of the films makes it a novelty not a great film to be treasured. We get so offended when someone calls these movies trash but shit…facts are facts! We need more black versions of Eat, Pray, Love., The Notebook, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, you get the point. The Black experience is not comprised of money, sex, drugs, and violence and it is time that Black filmmakers create content reflective of that and Black audiences support these projects so they can get the financial backing they deserve.

Overall:

No, this Sista Gurl does not recommend you watch Belly. If you want to watch some black crime movies then see some of the other films I mentioned above. But if you want to watch movies that I think need to have hood classic status then check out: Dead Presidents, The Wood, Juice, Posse, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., and Crooklyn. I sincerely hope that Black folks stop supporting these modern day minstrel shows but with the upcoming Superfly reboot hitting theaters soon, I don’t really see an end in sight.

Holla

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