With the success of Menace II Society, the 21-year-old Hughes Brothers have taken Hollywood by storm. Here the opinionated twins share their thoughts on everything from what's wrong with Halle Berry to what's right about looting.
When I enter the lobby of the Mondrian hotel, the Hughes Brothers--21-year-old fraternal twins Allen and Albert, whose film, Menace II Society; grossed close to $30 million last summer--are sprawled out on the sofas, looking like bookends. I take a deep breath and walk over to one of them. "You must be Allen." I say. He looks up slowly. "And you must be Albert." I say to the other one, hoping I've gotten them straight.
"Goddamn," says Allen, "how the fuck did you know?"
"I did my homework," I say, letting out my breath.
"And what?" kids Albert. "You knew I was more handsome?"
I nod toward Allen. "I heard he was..." I choose my words carefully. "Broader," I finally say, although neither one of them is big.
They're laughing now, so we head out to the patio. Allen grabs my tape recorder and sets it between them. "This'll be easy," he says. "When you listen to it, I'll be on the right, and he'll be on the left."
The Hughes Brothers, I find, are opinionated, loud, funny and sharp. And none of it comes off like cockiness. Rather, their exuberance comes from being smart and talented, and because they haven't been censored enough yet to hold back their thoughts on anything. For example, here they are on absentee fathers: "I'm a father, but I'm not an absentee father," says Allen. "They live right up the street from me." "We had a father who was never around," adds Albert. "He was the kind of father who when he said he would do something, he wouldn't do it. That's the only emotional damage that happened at a young age. But our mom made up for everything he fell short at." "I'm 10 times better than my father was," says Allen. "I'm not even on that level at all. I'm a great father." And here they are on black moviemakers: "They expect that black filmmakers know other black filmmakers," says Allen. "You know what? I can give a fuck about those niggers. I can give a shit about white filmmakers, too, unless I like their shit." "I don't want to hang around other filmmakers," adds Albert. "I want to hang with some regular people." Here's their take on condoms: "We shouldn't be the only 21-year-olds, or the only teenagers, when we were teenagers, that actually use condoms," says Allen. "I'm using condoms, and I thought everybody else did, too, and then they're like, 'No man, we don't use that shit.' I feel like a square or some shit, because I really do use them." I don't want to point out that if he was using those condoms, how'd he wind up with the baby?
The brothers were 12 when their mother saw that they were on the verge of getting in trouble and, though money was tight, she bought them a video camera. They started making movies about everything, and when a teacher suggested they make a "how-to" film, they did. It was called How To Be a Burglar. A few short films later, their movie The Drive By attracted the attention of agents around town, and the twins were on their way. They did videos for Digital Underground, Tone-Loc, KRS-One, Yo-Yo and others, and were eventually allowed to make their film.
Menace II Society, the story of Caine and O-Dog, two petty hustlers from the housing projects in Watts, was grim and unrelenting in its violence, but hopeful and promising in what it had to say about absentee fathers and giving a shit about your life. O-Dog, in particular, as played by Larenz Tate, embodied everything that is frightening and out-of-control in our cities. He was, as the film said, "The craziest nigger alive, America's nightmare: young, black and doesn't give a fuck."
"Let me read you guys what Halle Berry said about you in last month's Movieline," I say.
"I didn't even think she knew who we are," says Allen.
"Oh, she knows," I say. "I'm quoting here: 'Black films, quote-unquote? Black exploitation films if you ask me... The nature of these movies is that they're so violent, they deal with such negative subject matter, we're not willing to pay money to see them. Just turn on the news. Menace II Society? I don't think [moviemakers] realize sometimes the damage they're doing...'"
I got something to say to Halle," says Albert. "Didn't you play a crack-head in Spike's movie? And in The Last Boy Scout, she played a ho, okay? She's a black ho that gets hit by a car. She made great fucking strides for black people by playing a ho?
"I wanted to talk to you about women in your film..." I start to say.
Allen jumps right in. "That's what I want to talk to Halle about: to each his own. She shouldn't be in the media striking our film. The women we talk to say that Ronnie [the female lead in Menace] was the strongest black female role in black cinema to date. And we consciously did that. When people strike the movie for its violence, we're just depicting how fucked up things are. Why doesn't Halle just do something about it instead of striking us?"
Now Albert jumps in. "I think anybody else could have played, 'Can I suck your dick for some crack, mister?' That's no real artistic achievement. Go find respectable black parts and respectable black directors. She shouldn't even mention my film, she doesn't even know my views. But enough about Halle."
They spend the next 10 minutes talking about films they love--De Palma's Scarface and Scorsese's Goodfellas are their bible--and then the talk turns to other young filmmakers in town.
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