As Black History Month gets rolling this February, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing newly remastered Blu-rays two of director John Singleton‘s earlier and cult classic films, Poetic Justice (1993), starring Grammy Award winning superstar Janet Jackson in her big screen debut opposite legendary rapper Tupac, and the film Higher Learning (1995), which takes a bold look at college life.
Both films were Singleton’s follow up to Boyz N the Hood, which garnered him Academy Award nominations, including becoming the first Black to nominated for Best Director. Also making her film debut in Boyz and appearing in both Poetic Justice and Higher Learning was Regina King, who was recently Oscar nominated for her role in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk.
Blackfilm.com recently caught up with Singleton as he spoke about the Blu-ray releases, casting Janet Jackson and Regina King in their films and hoping Spike has a shot at winning a Best Director Oscar this year.
Is this the first time these films are being released?
John Singleton: I think this is a second blu-ray release. We added new stuff. Extra scenes that got cut out before. This is stuff that no one has ever seen. I hadn’t seen it since we edited the picture. They will also get the screen-test that secured Janet (Jackson) and Tupac landing in the movie.
The technology is different now and better.
With both films, you had two rappers in lead roles. What did you learn from that experience?
John Singleton: I like hanging out with hip hop artists. They were friends of mine. At that time, people were saying, “Why do we have to have these rappers taking over actors’ roles?” People don’t remember that musicians always designate themselves on film. Back in the day you had Louis Armstrong and different jazz musicians in films. They were influential to others. I was hanging out with a lot of people in the music scene and I wanted to put them in films. That’s how that came about.
Can you talk about casting Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice?
John Singleton: She had been acting she was a kid and then she devoted some time to her music career, and it was a matter of time to blend both of those personas in one area. We have the actress in her as well as the superstar.
In regards to Poetic Justice and Higher Learning and when you include Boyz N The Hood, you gave Regina King her first three films. To see that she’s now getting the accolades, the Oscar nomination and love from her peers, how does that make you feel?
John Singleton: It feels great. She’s my homegirl. She went to USC at the same time I was there. Regina is like my little sister. I’m happy for her. She’s working a lot as an actress and as a director, She’s just shining. She’s very, very blessed.
Could you make either of those films today?
John Singleton: I don’t think those films can be made today. The way things are now, you could’t get it done unless Rihanna wanted to make a movie like Poetic Justice. Then maybe.
With Regina King getting an Oscar, so did Spike Lee, who is only the sixth Black director. You were the first and that was twenty-eight years ago and we have yet to have Black winner in the directing category in 90 completed years. Do you think we still have a shot?
John Singleton: We still have a shot. You just never know.
What does it take for a director to be among the top five? Even a good film isn’t enough to make the short list.
John Singleton: You have to make a good film and have a studio behind you to help promote that film and the film has to resonate with the American public. Before one can be nominated by the Academy, the film has to resonate with the American public. That’s what happened with BlacKkKlansman. It’s the movie of the moment, even now. Of all the movies that are nominated, that movie stands out, even more so with the climate that’s happening in America right now.
Between the films and TV shows, what goes into the projects you say yes to?
John Singleton: It depends on the story and what you want to put in the story.
For those who haven’t seen Poetic Justice of Higher Learning, what’s a good reason to do so now?
John Singleton: The pictures are very relevant now because a lot of things that are happening to the characters in both films that is relevant to what this generation is going through.
Where are we with Snowfall? Is season 3 a go?
John Singleton: Season 3 is a go and we start shooting in about a week or so. It will be out this summer.
The POETIC JUSTICE Blu-ray comes loaded with all-new bonus content, including 10 never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes, a rare look at Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur’s original screen test and a new retrospective interview with Writer/Director John Singleton.
HIGHER LEARNING includes a commentary from John Singleton and the theatrical