It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since Janet Jackson starred as a lovelorn poetess sporting her now iconic braids and reciting Maya Angelou poetry to Tupac Shakur in John Singleton’s in Poetic Justice.
At a time when Black cinema was replete with male narratives (Boyz N the Hood, New Jack City), Singleton unapologetically gave a voice to young African-American women. Today, as the film celebrates its 20th anniversary, we spoke with Singleton on having Jackson as a muse, filming during the L.A. riots and who he would cast if there were a sequel.
ESSENCE: Janet Jackson’s braids are back on trend. Whose idea was it for her character Justice to sport the braids?
JOHN SINGLETON: That was a collaboration between myself, Janet, [dance choreographer] Fatima Robinson and a dancer named Josie Harris. Josie had the braids in Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video, which I directed. I brought her and Fatima and a couple of other dancers over to hang out with Janet and they all became friends. I said, "Why don’t we try and do Janet’s hair like Josie’s hair?" We got the hairstyle from Harlem and just put it in a West Coast movie.
and I told him that this will be the movie that will get him an Oscar. He said, "Anything you want I’m there." He was going to be my Robert DeNiro. We were going to grow together. When you see Baby Boy now, his presence and soul are still in that movie.
ESSENCE: The L.A. riots started at the same time following the Rodney King verdicts. Did it affect filming?
SINGLETON: We kept on filming while the riots broke out in April of 1992. We were shooting in Simi Valley, California, and I was on my way to set when the verdicts were coming in. I went to set late because I went to the courthouse. I was protesting and everything. When I finally get to set the crew was watching [the coverage] on a small television and some were predicting L.A. was going to burn. And it happened.
ESSENCE: Who do you think would be your modern-day Janet Jackson or Tupac Shakur if you were to do Poetic Justice in 2013?
SINGLETON: I don’t know, maybe Tyrese and Rihanna. I really want to do something with her. I talked to her before and I think she’d be very interesting. She’s young and beautiful and accessible and women like her.
Share your favorite Poetic Justice memory with us below.