Without struggle, there is no progress.
A few weeks ago I was watching a WatchMojo top 10 list for the worst movie racists in films and whilst there was the usual suspects, such as Calvin Candy (Django Unchained), there was one in there that I had never heard of, Remy in Higher Learning. He was played by Michael Raraport and having previously waxed lyrical about him in my review for “Little Boy”.
Away from Raraport, this also appeared to be a very different type of film than any other than I have reviewed previously for this site and that excited me. I had purposefully avoided films about issues relating to race and gender issues, so this is effectively uncharted territory for me on this site.
That being said, one of my favourite films, American History X, is based purely on issues related to race, so if it’s anything like that then I’m sure I’ll enjoy this.
The latest group of students have started at Columbus University, some of whom have financial difficulties and are initially chucked off of their courses for non-payments of bills, including Malik (Epps) and Kristen (Swanson). Kristen’s start of the year gets worse when she is raped, whereas Malik becomes influenced by black-power preacher, Fudge (Ice Cube).
When Kristen’s rapist phones to talk to her, he racially insults her room-mate (King), who subsequently reports him to Fudge and his group and they take out vengeance upon him. Within the crowd watching the group take revenge is Remy (Raraport) a social outcast that has also had his own troubles with Fudge’s group because of his desire to learn. Remy soon gets approached by neo-nazis and they quickly take advantage of how impressionable he is.
Kristen slowly recovers from her rape by helping Tayrn (Connelly) with her “equality” group, and she soon finds herself attracted to her new political activist friend, and after it being pointed out to her that you can’t have a group that preaches equality if only women are invited, she soon realises that everyone has to work together, but Remy’s involvement with the neo-nazis, coupled with numerous run-ins with Malik, could spell trouble for everyone else in the school.
As good as American History X?
Films that are looking at issues such as racism and sexism are very interesting because they tend to only focus on one side of the arguments, such as “American History X” (which don’t get me wrong, is completely amazing), but Higher Learning actually focuses on both and focuses on the hypocrisy on both sides of the arguments.
For example, Ice Cube’s character takes exception to any of his friends getting racist abuse from anyone of another ethnic background, but he is happy to throw out racist comments himself, and it’s the same with the group that wants to promote gender equality and claim that segregating people because of their gender is wrong, but won’t allow men to attend their meeting. Both are fine examples of the characters only seeing it from their side of the argument, whilst not realising the hypocrisy of the situation.
Even Laurence Fishburne’s character, a political professor, questions Epp’s character about why he should afford him a break and given him a better grade after, citing that simply because they are both from the same ethnic background that he shouldn’t expect favours from him.
I would go as far as saying that Fishburne’s character is arguably the only truly pure character in the film, with the rest having moments of making racist or sexist comments, but the problem is that he has no real impact on the plot of the story in the slightest, which is very disappointing as he puts in the most accomplished performance after Michael Raraport.
The casting of Raraport as a social outcast was perfect as, in the nicest possible way, Raraport has always had that look of someone who wouldn’t have been that popular in school. I love him as an actor, he is tremendously warm and enjoyable to watch, so this role was very much a dark turn for him. He has never played a character anything close to as antagonistic as Remy, but he also brings a certain performance to the movie that makes you feel sympathy for his character.
Remy is probably his most complicated role and it is one that I think he would have made a speciality of if he had continued in drama, and whilst not on the same level as Derek Vinyard in America History X, it’s still an interesting look at how someone can be easily manipulated.
Higher Learning’s soundtrack is unusual, and almost feels like it’s trying to force you into realising when the important moments are happening, which is something that was epidemic in films during the early 1990s, but that’s something I grew to ignore for the most part during my youth.
Instead my only real problem with Higher Learning is that there are a lot of parts where it just drags. At more than two hours long, Higher Learning often struggles to be worth more than a 90 minute film and this isn’t helped by them introducing so many minor characters and not even really giving them names. They’re important enough in the lives of these people to be there in numerous scenes, but not important enough to give a name to?
Other than though there isn’t really a lot to talk about.
Higher Learning is a very interesting film in many ways, but it is far, far, far too long and that is the reason I’m not going to give it the approved stamp. It is at least 30 minutes too long and whilst the overall structure is interesting, and the characters are quite engaging to watch on some levels, it just drags on for long sections of the film. I thought to myself that it had been going for a long time, I looked and it was only an hour in.
No-one puts in a bad performance, and it’s interesting to see how accomplished some of the actors were before they became stars in Hollywood, and the performances from Raraport and Fishburne are a delight.
If you’d got to kill two hours and fancy a film that will make you thin then go for this, but expect to get a bit bored.