Today, January 5, marks the 2nd annual celebration of National Screenwriter’s Day.
National Screenwriter’s Day recognizes the tremendous talent and efforts of the writers behind the big screen films we love and cherish. According to Hal Croasnum, creator of National Screenwriter’s Day and President of ScreenwritingU, the holiday tackles more than shedding the spotlight on those behind the pen of movies and television.
“We want to elevate the image of writers,” says Croasmun, “we also want to elevate the credit writers get, elevate the status of writers within the industry and ultimately increase the income writers receive. Very few people out there know who writes things other than big names like Aaron Sorkin.”
Often, screenwriters are overlooked and directors are given all of the praise and accolades for the work screenwriters have accomplished. Croasmun explains that this is sometimes due to the filmmaking process.
“When making a movie, the writer comes in so early in the process. Once the screenplay is written, everybody else gets involved – the director, the producers, the actors. The writer has been dismissed two years before the movie gets made.”
In honor of National Screenwriter’s Day, we’re celebrating 15 screenwriters we love, who are responsible for creating some of our favorite hip-hop movies that are a major staple to the culture. Over the years, we’ve experienced phenomenal movies that made us laugh, cry, and ignite passionate debates and discussions with family and friends. The connection between to hip-hop and film is an everlasting love story that stems back to the 1980’s. In no particular order, here are 15 cult classics and the gifted writers behind them.
- House Party (1990)
Written by: Reginald Hudlin, also known for his work in Boomerang and Django Unchained
House Party, starring the dynamic hip-hop duo Kid N’ Play, (Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin), is a lighthearted comedy centered around the pair, who decide to throw a jumping house party to showcase their rapping skills, but Kid is faced with a number of obstacles when he attempts to sneak out of the house to get to the party, despite his father “Pop” (Robin Harris) forbidding him to attend. The movie also stars Martin Lawrence as Bilal, their best friend, Tisha-Martin Campbell as Sidney and A.J. Johnson as Sharane, their love interests, and bullies Stab, Pee-wee, and Zilla, played by “Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., and Brian “B-Fine” George, of Hip-Hop and R&B group, Full Force. The success of the film lead to the release of follow-up movies, House Party 2, House Party 3, and House Party 4: Down to the Last Minute.
2. Friday (1995)
Written by: Ice Cube and DJ Pooh
Friday is a beloved comedy starring Ice Cube who plays the role of Craig, who’s fired from his job and spends the day getting high with his friend Smokey, played by Chris Tucker. The two friends end up on a mission to pay drug dealer Big Worm, played by Faizon Love, $200 worth of weed by the end of the night at 10:00pm, all because Smokey carelessly smokes his weed. While the friends try to find ways to come up with the cash, they encounter a slew of interesting characters in their neighborhood including Craig’s father Willie (John Witherspoon) who constantly begs him to get a job, neighborhood bully Deebo (Tiny “Zeus” Lister, Jr.), Craig’s crush Debbie (Nia Long) and Pastor Clever (Bernie Mac). The soundtrack for Friday reached double platinum status and became Number 1 on the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. The success of Friday prompted Ice Cube to produce Next Friday and Friday after Next.
3. Juice (1992)
Written by: Ernest R. Dickerson and Gerard Brown
Juice is a crime drama about four Harlem friends, Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Q (Omar Epps), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), who battle demons of power and corruption. The crew spend most of their time hanging out, skipping school, and getting intro trouble, but Q’s passion for DJ’ing soon comes to a halt when he’s faced with an internal struggle on whether to cater to his dreams, or cater to his friends. Inspired by a film, Bishop decides to a buy a gun and plans a robbery to be executed by him and his friends, which takes a turn for the worse. Juice was rap icon Tupac’s acting debut, and opened doors to other T.V. and film roles. Aside from Tupac, other hip-hop greats make an appearance in the film including Queen Latifah, Fab 5 Freddy, and EMPD.
4. Paid in Full (2002)
Written by: Matthew Cirulnick, Thulani Davis, Azie Faison Jr., and Austin Phillips
Coined by the same name as Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 record and album, Paid in Full focuses on the true story of infamous New York drug dealers Azie “AZ” Faison, Rich Porter, and Alpo Martinez. Based in 1980’s Harlem, Wood Harris plays the role of Ace, who works in a laundromat, but enters the world of drug dealing with his friends Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) and Rico (Cam’ron), who soon build a budding drug empire. As time goes on, jealousy and power tears apart their newfound success. Regina Hall, Elise Neal, and Damon Dash also appear in Paid in Full.
5. Brown Sugar (2002)
Written by: Rick Famuyiwa, also known for his work in The Wood and Dope, and Michael Elliot, also known for his work in Like Mike and Just Wright
Brown Sugar is a love story that depicts the true essence of love and hip-hop. The narrative of Brown Sugar tells the story of Andre Romulus “Dre” Ellis (Taye Diggs), an A&R at a record label and Sidney “Sid” Shaw (Sanaa Lathan), Editor-in-Chief at XXL Magazine, who’ve been best friends since childhood. The two friends run into some trouble when their friendship is strained, when love comes into play. Dre proposes to his girlfriend Reese (Nicole Ari Parker), and Sidney suddenly realizes where her heart truly belongs. Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, plays the role of Cavi, a cab driver and undercover rapper, and Queen Latifah appears as Sidney’s cousin Francine.
6. Belly (1998)
Written by: Hype Williams
Belly’s iconic opening scene with Soul ll Soul’s “Back to Life” playing in the background, is one of a kind, and ultimately sets the tone for the film. Tommy “Buns” Bundy (DMX) and Sincere (Nas) are Queens natives and gangsters, who make their living off of drug dealing and armed robberies, but the dangerous duo are hungry for a change of lifestyle. Method Man, T-Boz, and Taral Hicks also star alongside DMX and Nas in Belly.
7. Notorious (2009)
Written by: Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker
Notorious zeroes in on the life and times of rap legend Notorious B.I.G. From his humble beginnings in Brooklyn, to his superstar stardom, the star-studded cast stars Jamal Woolard as Christopher “Biggie” Wallace, Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace, Derek Luke as Sean Combs, Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur, Marc John Jefferies as Lil’ Cease, and Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim.
Cheo Hodari Coker was also a writer for The Source magazine.
8. 8 Mile (2002)
Written by: Scott Silver
8 Mile is heavily based on the life of rapper Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, who plays the role of Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, Jr.,a young white rapper from the trailer park slums of Detroit, trying to launch his rap career. Jimmy is determined to transcend boundaries by making it as a white rapper in a black dominated genre. During the film, he deals with his troubled home-life which includes his alcoholic mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger), his younger sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield) and Stephanie’s abusive boyfriend Greg (Michael Shannon), all while attempting to beat the odds and fulfill his dream. Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, Anthony Mackie, Taryn Manning and Xzibit all appear in 8 Mile. Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself.”
9. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005)
Written by: Terrence Winter also known for his work in The Wolf of Wall Street
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is a drama named after Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson‘s debut studio album. The film is based on the rapper’s life, where he plays the role of a gangster named Marcus, who’s able to transform his lifestyle from drug dealing to a successful rap career. After loosing his mother to to a drug deal gone wrong, his mother’s murder leads him to follow in her footsteps of dealing and hustling. But a life-altering moment prompts Marcus to pursue his passion of rap. Other notable names in Get Rich or Die Tryin’ include Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Majestic, Terrence Howard as Bama, Joy Bryant as Charlene, and Viola Davis as Grandma.
10. New Jack City (1991)
Written by: Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper also known for his work in Sugar Hill and Above the Rim
A war on drugs in Harlem, New Jack City stars Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown, a drug lord and leader of the gang Cash Money Brothers (CMB), who built a flourishing empire during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980’s. Undercover cop Scotty Appleton, played by rapper Ice-T, is on a mission with his partner Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) to infiltrate Nino’s gang and shut their business down. New Jack City also stars Allen Payne as Gerald “Gee Money” Wells, Nino’s friend, Chris Rock as “Pookie” Benny Robinson, a crack addict turned police informant, and Mario Van Peebles as Stone, leader of the CMB police operation. Nino’s power hungry character has influenced the world of hip-hop and has been referenced in several songs, and even inspired the name behind Cash Money Records.
11. Hustle & Flow (2005)
Written by: Craig Brewer
In Hustle & Flow, Terrance Howard acts as DJay, a drug dealer and pimp from Memphis, who explores making music after he plays around with a keyboard and reconnects with his old friend Key (Anthony Anderson), who works in gospel music. DJay decides to pursue a career in rap with the help of Key and a local beat maker named Shelby (DJ Qualls). With a tip-off from his friend Arnel (Isaac Hayes), DJay tries to persuade big time rapper Skinny Black (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), he meets at a party, to take his mixtape, in hopes of transforming his career. Howard’s performance in Hustle & Flow earned him an Oscar nomination, and the film won an Oscar for Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. Taraji P. Henson, Taryn Manning, Paula Jai Parker, Juicy J, and Elise Neal also appear in the movie.
12. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Written by: John Singleton also known for his work in Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, and Baby Boy
Boyz n the Hood is a drama highlighting the lives of young African American men residing in violence stricken South Central Los Angeles. Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), deals with the transition of living with his mother (Angela Bassett), to living with his father (Laurence Fishburne), who tries to teach Tre valuable lessons to lead a better life, after his mother sends him there in fear of the outcome of his future. Tre forms a friendship with brothers Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) a football star who has plans to attend college, and Darrin “Doughboy” Baker (Ice Cube) a gangbanger. Dreams are unfortunately cut short for Ricky, who becomes a victim of gang violence. Boyz n the Hood’s cast also features Nia Long as Brandi, Tre’s girlfriend.
13. Set it Off (1996)
Written by: Takashi Bufford also known for his work in House Party 3 and Booty Call, and Katie Lanier also known for her work in Beauty Shop and Glitter
Unsatisfied with their situations and determined to improve their lives, Set it Off highlights four girlfriends Lida “Stoney” Newsome (Jada Pinkett Smith), Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims (Queen Latifah), Francesca “Frankie” Sutton ( Vivica A. Fox), and Tisean “T.T.” Williams (Kimberly Elise) who plan to rob Los Angeles banks. They begin by participating in a string of armed robberies with much success, but soon their friendship is compromised when it’s fueled with mistrust, and unfortunately turns fatal.
14. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Weknus
Straight Outta Compton is the Academy Award nominated film that narrates the emergence of Compton hip-hop legends Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E of N.W.A. Showcasing the rise and fall of N.W.A., the world’s most dangerous group in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays the role of his father Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Straight Outta Compton displays the revolution the rap group ignited.
15. Menace II Society (1993)
Written by: Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes (The Hughes Brothers) known for their work in Dead Presidents and The Book of Eli, and Tyger Williams known for his work in The Perfect Guy
Menace II Society is a gritty crime drama set in Watts, that follows the life of Kaydee “Caine” Lawson (Tyrin Turner), a drug dealer and car thief who lives with his grandparents. Caine spends the majority of his time with his best friend Kevin “O-Dog” Anderson (Larenz Tate), a ruthless thug who’s always up to no good and wanted by the police. Jada Pinkett Smith plays Ronnie, Caine’s friend turned love interest, and a single parent struggling to raise her son in violent Los Angeles .