The Film That Challenged How We See Ourselves Almost Never Happened

July 17, 2019

In the 1975 hit movie Cooley High, lead actors Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (playing the character Cochise) and Glynn Turman (as Preach) give the audience a peek into Chicago urban life. 

But something about their portrayal of Black teens is different - and special.

Set in 1964 Chicago, the film avoided Hollywood’s favorite scam: using violence and stereotypical characters in one blaxploitation film after another to sell out theaters.

Instead, screenwriter Eric Monte and director Michael Schultz risked their careers to show a positive plot in which characters had nuanced humanity, hopes, and fears. But getting the script produced wouldn’t be easy.

Producers weren’t used to films like Cooley High, with conscious plots that explored themes like criminal justice (such as when Cochise and Preach have a run-in with the police) and the innocence of high school - showing carefree interests like sports, music, dating, etc.

After retooling the script, producer Steve Krantz DID get the film its funding.

It would go on to launch the career and directorial aspirations of legendary actor-filmmaker Robert Townsend and lead the way for filmmakers like Spike Lee to create complex roles for Black actors to show their talent - without having to clown from the opening scene to closing credits.

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