Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Singleton|
|Produced by||John Singleton
|Written by||John Singleton|
|Music by||Stanley Clarke|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||127 minutes|
Higher Learning is a 1995 American drama film, directed by John Singleton, and starring an ensemble cast. The film follows the changing lives of three incoming freshmen at the fictional Columbus University: Malik Williams (Omar Epps), a black track star who struggles with academics; Kristen Connor (Kristy Swanson), a shy and naive girl; and Remy (Michael Rapaport), a lonely and confused man seemingly out of place in his new environment.
The film also featured Tyra Banks' first performance in a theatrical film. Laurence Fishburne won an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture"; Ice Cube was also nominated for the award. This was the last film appearance of Dedrick D. Gobert, who was shot dead in 1994 prior to the film's release. Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly in the film as a student, the only time in her film career to date she has had an uncredited role.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2014)|
We meet Malik Williams, Kristen Connor, and Remy; at the opening freshman pep rally. Malik and Kristen cross paths in the elevator and she shields her purse while Malik, both offended and amused, simply ignores her. There is a montage of each student putting up pictures and posters in their rooms. Track star Malik goes to his first practice unprepared, and is surprised to be chastised by the black coach.
The next day, Fudge points out the self-segregation of the various ethnic groups on campus. In Malik's first class, Professor Maurice Phipps (Laurence Fishburne) calls out Malik and Kristen and several others for tuition problems. They go to the financial aid office, where Kristen is told she needs a job and Malik learns that his scholarship is partial, not full. He talks to the coach, who agrees to help him out if he keeps his grades up and works extra hard on the field.
Professor Phipps challenges his class to determine who they are for themselves and not let others categorize them. Kristen responds personally by telling Taryn about being raped and Taryn consoles her, encouraging her to report it. Malik confronts Phipps about his badly graded paper, arguing he should have a better grade. When Phipps shows him the various spelling and grammar errors, Malik calls him a sellout. Phipps retorts that the world owes him nothing and he must work for his own good. Malik runs in a racing relay, losing ground to another runner. When his teammates confront him, he responds by downplaying his role. Sometime later he flirts with fellow runner Deja (Tyra Banks).
Remy and his new friends gather in Scott's room. The walls are decorated with Swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia, intimating that the skinheads are indeed Neo-Nazis. Scott expresses his racist beliefs and Remy is slowly convinced of his ideals. Deja helps Malik with his essay while Kristen realizes her attraction to Taryn.
Phipps then criticizes Kristen's bland paper, telling her that only writing the facts is fine for journalism, not for political science. He explains that her purpose at college is to think for herself. Phipps also meets with Malik about his much improved paper. Remy is shown working away in class, surrounded by students of other races. He removes his hat, showing he now has a shaved his head and is wearing an Iron Cross necklace.
Wayne asks Kristen for a flier for their group, confronting her when she says the anti-sexism group is for women. On Halloween, Monet attends a party with Dreads while Kristen attends a rape awareness rally with Taryn and the Neo-Nazis attack an interracial couple while Remy watches on. Kristen asks to spend the night with Taryn. Taryn rebuffs her, saying she wants Kristen to be sure about it. While stretching on the track, Malik touts his newfound black ideology to Deja. Deja rebuffs this, saying he has opportunities that people would do anything for and he should take them. A montage shows the two training and falling in love while Kristen begins dating Wayne.
Scott shows Remy his gun collection and Remy talks about his abusive, survivalist father. Kristen forms a bond with Taryn, holding hands and taking walks together. A montage love sequence is shown with Kristen where she sleeps with both Wayne and Taryn, finding solace with both. Malik subsequently moves in with Fudge, feeling safe around the other black students and parts ways with a curious Wayne. One day, Malik, Fudge, and Phipps converse on race, knowledge of self and the system of life. Phipps says that he must play a game of life to win, because society wants no excuses. Kristen and Taryn organize a peace festival to calm and unify the campus after Remy's actions.
Meanwhile, Scott chastises Remy for dropping out of school, arguing that they (skinheads) need more successful members and that he is betraying his race. While having lunch, Knocko calls out a racial slur just as Fudge, Malik, Dreads and another black student confront them the Neo-Nazis and a group fight ensues. Afterwards, Deja confronts Malik on his intentions of dropping out and fighting like a thug. Malik is becoming more and more angry about racial issues. Scott says that Remy's posturing means nothing and only actions do. He then shows Remy a sniper rifle and challenges him into action.
Malik and Deja are at the Peace Fest and Malik opts not to drop out because he'd lose her. Remy has moved to the rooftop of a building with the sniper rifle and prepares to strike. Erik stands lookout while the Neo-Nazis attack a gay couple to distract security. Remy is obviously having trouble with the plan, but acquiesces when pushed by Scott. He opens fire on the crowd below, causing a panic, shooting several students and striking a fleeing Deja in the stomach. She collapses and Malik pulls her to safety at the base of a statue of Christopher Columbus.
The Neo-Nazis are shown mourning Remy's death when they see a TV news report of the university shooting. Erik simply replies that "That wasn't Remy...that was white power." Knocko, Erik, and James then begin celebrating, chanting, "white power" and "sieg heil" forgetting all about Remy. Scott quietly sits back and for a brief moment seems to smile.
Malik and Phipps discuss a future away from the university, with Phipps saying he trusts Malik's judgment. Later, Malik and Kristen meet at the memorial. Kristen feels guilty about the deaths because she started the festival but Malik assuages her. They shake hands and part. The final montage shows Malik running, Fudge (and the senior class) graduating as the band plays the national anthem and Phipps leaving. He exits the frame under the American flag and the word UNLEARN are superimposed over the screen.
- Omar Epps as Malik Williams
- Kristy Swanson as Kristen Connor
- Michael Rapaport as Remy
- Ice Cube as Fudge
- Jennifer Connelly as Taryn
- Tyra Banks as Deja
- Regina King as Monet
- Jason Wiles as Wayne
- Cole Hauser as Scott Moss
- Busta Rhymes as Dreads
- Laurence Fishburne as Professor Maurice Phipps
- Bradford English as Officer Bradley
- Jay R. Ferguson as Billy
- Andrew Bryniarski as Knocko
- Trevor St. John as James
- Talbert Morton as Erik
- Adam Goldberg as David Isaacs
- J. Trevor Edmond as Eddie
- Bridgette Wilson as Nicole
- Kari Wührer as Claudi
- Magic Mwaura as Derrick
- Colleen Fitzpatrick as Festival Singer
- Morris Chestnut as Track Anchor (uncredited)
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Student (uncredited)
The idea for Higher Learning came about when director Jonathan Demme persuaded John Singleton about making a movie about college racial issues in the country when they were in pre-production for Boyz n the Hood, which was being developed at Orion Pictures with Singleton directing and Demme producing. When the deal with Orion fell through, Singelton took the idea and began to develop it while at Columbia Pictures.
Singleton wanted Sidney Poitier to play Professor Maurice Phipps, but he was not available. Dustin Hoffman was the next choice, as the actor wanted the plot to revolve around Phipps and his mentorship with Malik, but Singleton didn't want that, so Hoffman was not cast. Samuel L. Jackson was also offered the part before Sony preferred Laurence Fishburne, who had worked successfully with Singleton on Boyz n the Hood and he was immediately cast.
Leonardo DiCaprio was cast to play Remy while Michael Rapaport was originally going to play Scott Moss. DiCaprio however, was unable to be in the film due to a scheduling conflict with The Quick and the Dead, so Singleton had Rapaport play Remy once Cole Hauser was cast as Scott.
Singleton then wanted Gwyneth Paltrow to play Kristen Connor and Juliette Lewis to play Taryn, but neither was available. Drew Barrymore auditioned for the part of Kristen, where she lost to Kristy Swanson while Jennifer Connelly was chosen to play Taryn. Tupac Shakur was originally going to play Malik Williams, but he was jailed shortly after and the role went to Omar Epps instead.
The film was heavily cut upon its release, eliminating much of the romantic relationship between Connelly and Swanson's characters, including the resolution to it, along with more scenes involving the neo-Nazis and the other groups' activities and relationships going on throughout the university.
Laurence Fishburne won an Image Award, and Ice Cube was nominated for Image Award in 1996.
Critical response 
The film received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert commented about John Singleton's direction of the film: "He sees with a clear eye and a strong will, and is not persuaded by fashionable ideologies. His movies are thought-provoking because he uses familiar kinds of characters and then asks hard questions about them." He awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars. TimeOut Magazine described it as "a stylish, intelligent film-maker, Singleton interweaves the threads of his demographic tapestry with assurance, passion and a welcome awareness of the complexities of the college community's contradictory impulses towards integration and separatism."
Reel Film Reviews wrote, "...Higher Learning is consistently entertaining and well-acted all around. While it's not a perfect movie – Cube's character disappears for a 30-minute stretch and Singleton's approach often veers into heavy-handedness – it is nevertheless an intriguing look at the differences between races and how such differences can clash." (3.5 stars out of 4) Higher Learning holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The soundtrack, containing hip hop, R&B, rock and jazz music was released on January 3, 1995 by Epic Records. It peaked at #39 on the Billboard 200 and #9 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. In addition to "Higher", performed by Ice Cube, the soundtrack includes original music by OutKast, Liz Phair, Tori Amos and Rage Against the Machine.
- "Violence Erupts in Opening Week of 'Higher Learning'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
- Roger Ebert (January 11, 1995). "Higher Learning". RogerEbert.com (Chicago Sun-Times).
- "The Films of John Singleton. Higher Learning.". Reel Film. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13.
- Higher Learning at the Internet Movie Database
- Higher Learning at AllMovie
- Higher Learning at Rotten Tomatoes