30 years ago today, the classic film Poetic Justice was released to a worldwide audience. Written and directed by the legendary John Singleton, this romantic drama told the story of Justice – played by Janet Jackson – as she takes a life-changing road trip from Los Angeles to Oakland following the loss of her boyfriend to gun violence.
Upon its premiere, Poetic Justice received mixed reviews from critics, but has since developed a cult following due the the chemistry between Jackson and Tupac Shakur, along with the film’s many unforgettable scenes, quotes, performances. Janet received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song for “Again”, which also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, further adding to the movie’s ever-growing legacy.
In addition to Jackson and Shakur, the film featured a star-studded cast that included Regina King, Joe Torry, Q-Tip, and Khandi Alexander, among several others. Its popular soundtrack was also well-received, and contained the songs “Indo Smoke” by Mista Grimm, “Get It Up” by TLC, and “Call Me a Mack” by Usher, all three of which charted on Billboard. It also has the Stevie Wonder song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer”, a track that was originally on his 1970 album Where I’m Coming From, as well as the track “Definition of a Thug Nigga”, recorded by Tupac Shakur for the film, later appeared on his 1997 posthumous album R U Still Down? (Remember Me).
Throughout the years, the film has appeared on television countless times, been quoted by various generations, and has become a staple in Black culture. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, let’s take a look at the film’s cast then and now.
Justice was a poet mourning the loss of her boyfriend from gun violence, who goes on a road trip from South Central L.A. to Oakland on a mail truck along with her friend, her friend’s boyfriend, and a postal worker. Justice was also the focal point of the film.
At the time of the film’s release, Janet Jackson was already an established star. Throughout her career, she has been noted for her innovative, socially conscious and sexually provocative records, as well as elaborate stage shows. Her sound and choreography became a catalyst in the growth of MTV, enabling her to rise to prominence while breaking gender and racial barriers in the process. She is nothing less than an entertainment legend, as well as an undeniable icon in popular culture.
Played by Tupac Shakur, Lucky is a postal worker, father, and aspiring musician. He also becomes the love interest of Justice as the film progresses.
Following Poetic Justice, Shakur emerged as a multi-talented entertainer, and is widely considered as the greatest rapper of all-time. He has sold more than 75 million records worldwide, and his music has been noted for addressing contemporary social issues that plagued inner cities, and he is considered a symbol of activism and change. Unfortunately, he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996, the case still remains unsolved.
Justice’s friend, and the person who convinces her to take a road trip from South Central L.A. to Sacramento.
King has emerged as one of the most bankable actresses of all-time. After the release of Poetic Justice, King has received various accolades, In 2019, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Throughout her career, King had masterful performances in films such as Higher Learning, Friday, Ray, This Christmas, If Beale Street Could Talk, and more. She became the second black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director in 2020 with her drama One Night in Miami…
Simone is a frequent attendee of the hairdresser that Justice works at, and also has a spicy and hilarious personality.
Alexander is a dancer, choreographer, and actress. She began her career as a dancer in the 1980s, and was a choreographer for Whitney Houston’s world tours from 1988 to 1992. After 1993, she starred as Catherine Duke in the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, and also had a major recurring role in ER. Alexander also received critical acclaim for her leading performance in the HBO miniseries The Corner in 2000. She also had stellar showings in programs such as CSI: Miami, Treme, and Bessie, and received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination in 2015 for her role as Olivia Pope’s mother in Scandal.
Anne was Lucky’s mother in the film Poetic Justice. She was played by Jenifer Lewis.
Lewis has had a career in the industry for almost 50 years, and is affectionately known as “The Mother of Black Hollywood.” She is known for playing roles in the films The Preacher’s Wife, the Think Like a Man franchise, Baggage Claim, and The Wedding Ringer. In 2014, Lewis began starring as Ruby Johnson in the ABC comedy series Black-ish, for which she received two Critics’ Choice Television Award nominations.
The woman whom Iesha hears at the cookout that her and her friends crash. She had a very powerful speech about the state of Black youth at that particular time.
The iconic Angelou was a memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. She passed away in 2014.
Justice’s boyfriend who is killed in the beginning of the film, causing Justice to suffer a deep depression.
A founding member of the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, and has appeared in various films such as She Hate Me and Prison Song. As a DJ, he has hosted the Apple Music 1 radio show Abstract Radio, and in 2016, he was named the artistic director for hip hop culture at the Kennedy Center, and in 2018, he became the instructor of a jazz and hip hop course at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
Iesha’s boyfriend, and Lucky’s friend and coworker.
Joe Torry is an actor and comedian who has appeared in films such as House Party, Strictly Business, Sprung, and more. He was also the host of Def Comedy Jam, and today stands as one of the funniest comics in history.