Higher Learning

Synopsis: Question The Knowledge

Kristy Swanson, Omar Epps and Michael Rapaport star as first-term freshmen who get a crash course in diversity, identity and sexuality in writer/ director John Singleton’s bold look at contemporary college life. Also starring Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Jennifer Connelly and Tyra Banks.
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Higher Learning 8.0

‘Higher Learning’ is a return to form for John Singleton, after following up his prodigious ‘Boyz n the Hood’ with the rather lacklustre ‘Poetic Justice’.

In this film, which he also wrote himself, he tried to peel back the layers of male-female and black-white relations through the eyes of college students on campus. We have three protagonists to follow (played here by Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson and Michael Rapaport), who in turn interact with a number of other characters who significantly alter their lives.

The cast is pretty solid, even though they were mostly all b-list actors, and there are a number of nice surprises along the way (for example, Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube, who were both in ‘Boyz’ return for a couple of intense performances). It’s hardly surprising that no one here really garnered any awards, but the material is strong enough to hold everyone together.

The script can be a little heavy-handed in its message about tolerance, and it sometimes feels like an after-school special (not unlike key segments of Singleton’s version of ‘Shaft’, actually). Having said that, this flaw is mostly overshadowed by the message’s significance and how spot-on Singleton was in his interpretations and conclusions.

He doesn’t necessarily draft up any new concepts, but he brings up a noteworthy comment: in ‘Higher Learning’ Singleton suggests that African-Americans’ rightful indignation about their treatment in society may also serve to perpetuate the very hatred that they decry (case-in-point, the way Ice Cube treats Michael Rapaport). Is he making a statement? Or is he simply trying to open up discussion of this issue? It doesn’t matter, because he succeeded either way

‘Higher Learning’ is melodramatic, sometimes blisteringly so, but it remains wholly entertaining and enjoyable. Sadly, it was the last gasp before Singleton disappeared in Hollywood Hell with such fare as ‘Shaft (2000)’ and ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’. Still, ‘Higher Learning’ has all the makings of great discussion fodder – and that is more than many filmmakers could ever claim even once in their career.

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