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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Youngblood (1978): True Tales from the ‘Hood

youngblood 1978 movie posterOpening with a mean slo-mo basketball sequence filled with short shorts, knee high socks and other questionable, yet eye appealing, 70s fashion, we are introduced to an afro clad young man named Youngblood. It’s immediately clear that Youngblood (Bryan O’Dell) is one cool cat who’s brimming with style and swagger, but as a young man living beneath the weight and pressures of South-Central Los Angeles, he begins to make some bad decisions, including dropping out of school to join a local street gang called The Kingsmen. The Kingsmen are your typical low-level street gang, but as the film unfolds, they begin to get into heavier and certainly more dangerous shit as they aim to take out a major drug cartel, resulting in an all out war.

Written by Paul Carter Harrison and directed by Noel Nosseck, Youngblood is a fairly standard, urban set morality tale with enough depth to give the characters and the world they live in some weight. While he has turned to a life of crime, Youngblood (as well as his counterparts) is very much a victim; a victim of the pressures of being a young black man growing up in a neighborhood where life is nothing short of a daily struggle. Youngblood is forced, largely in part due to peer pressure, to live up to the negative perceptions of what a black man should be, something that has been thrust upon him by society, his friends and even himself.

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Of course, bad decisions also come with being a dumb kid; a dumb kid too egotistical and immature to know better, and most bad decisions stem from ego and/or immaturity. Furthermore, Youngblood has no male role model to teach him what it takes to be a “man.” In fact, the closest thing he has to a father figure is his brother, Reggie (David Pendleton); however, Reggie isn’t on the straight and narrow himself, essentially being a high level version of Youngblood. Though, it should be said that, to no avail, he does try to keep Youngblood in line. The only truly positive influence on Youngblood would come from his mother, but unfortunately, however, her influence and strength is yet to be seen let alone understood by Youngblood at this point in his life. Her sacrifice as a hardworking single mother is commendable, even if it goes unnoticed by Youngblood, but there is little she can do to block his unfolding path.

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One character who does play a major part in Youngblood’s life as both a role model and, in a way, a father figure, is the leader of The Kingsmen, Rommel (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Rommel is nearly as prominent as that of the titular character, and in many ways, is going through life in a fashion that is parallel to Youngblood, just from a very different angle. Rommel is living with his own issues as a man, being a Vietnam vet who feels as if he’s been left behind, despite the fact that he sacrificed his life for our country.

As is the case with so many veterans, Rommel HAS been left behind to a certain extent; however, there is also a part of Rommel that uses this as an excuse to not do better for himself and his wife. And again, this likely comes from pride. It should be said that Rommel’s wife is, in theory, very similar to Youngblood’s mother, in that she is the strong female backbone holding up the fort, while her husband is out acting like an immature child. The women in Youngblood are certainly the only grounded characters, holding together a weakened structure without the help of no one.

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As you’d expect from a film such as Youngblood, there are lessons to be learned and consequences to be paid, and they are certainly paid in full, making Youngblood fit in perfectly with your typical morality tale driven film. And that’s not a bad thing. The unfortunate aspect about the tale of Youngblood is that it’s a story that could be told about any number of nameless youths living in America right now, something that makes the film as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1978.

2 comments:

  1. I'm just beginning to get into the Blaxploitation crates and see these films. Great review! I think it summed the film up nicely.

    I think Youngblood and its imitators set the tone for John Singleton and a few short-lived TV dramas (as seen on FOX) in the 90s to get mainstream recognition.

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    1. Thanks, Ashlee! I agree that movies like Youngblood really paved the way for what came in the 90s. I could probably change a few names and write an almost identical review for Boyz n the Hood.

      I suppose the type of story that films like that tell is, in a way, timeless, though timeless sounds a little demeaning to the severity of their influence. It would be nice to see someone tackle the subject matter in a book focused on these types of films and how they reflect their specific time periods while also being the same essential story.

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