I watched the Hughes brothers From Hell over the weekend. It was hard not to remain conscious throughout that it was directed by the brothers whose brilliant Menace II Society was such a powerful portrait of black American life (keeping in mind that as a middle-class white guymost of what I know about black American life I’ve learned from movies such as the Hugheses’, Charles Burnetts’, and John Singletons’, e.g.). With that uppermost in my mind while watching it, it seemed to me that From Hell serves as a kind of rebuttal to the pervasive misconception that the blame for the problems of “ghetto life” can be simplistically laid at the feet of the modern black Americans who live there. Drugs, prostitution, murder, extortion, etc., are a product of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent urbanization. In other words, the modern “ghetto” was invented by Victorian England at the height of the British Empire.
This interpretation leaves me with a couple questions: is it racist on my part to be unable to see this film except through the lens of its having been made by black directors? or was that their intent? (I’ve since learned that the Hughes brothers referred to it as a “ghetto film,” so I may not be that far off.)
Would it be the same film if made by a white artist (as Schindler’s List, for example, would be a VASTLY different film if made by a German director)?