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|
|Box office||$38 million|
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 Image Award for "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture" for his performance; Ice Cube was also nominated for the award. This would mark the last film appearance of Dedrick D. Gobert, who was shot and killed in 1994 prior to the film's release.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) filled in for the college, Columbus University. The exterior shots and outdoor scenes were shot on the campus. Interiors were shot at Sony Pictures Studios.
We first see Malik Williams (a black man), Kristen Connor (a white woman), and Remy, (a white man), at the opening freshman pep rally and as they are decorating their rooms. Malik and Kristen meet in the elevator, with Kristen shielding her purse and Malik seeing this and resenting it. There is a montage of each putting up pictures and posters in their rooms. Track star Malik goes to his first practice unprepared, and is chastised severely by the coach.
Kristen meets her roommate, Monet (Regina King), a black girl, and attends a fraternity rush party. Monet and Malik attend a party with other black students, hosted by Fudge (Ice Cube), an afrocentric senior. Remy, who is Fudge's roommate, is upset at the loud rap music being played late into the night. He calls security, who breaks up the party. Fudge is upset that they don't tell the room down the hall to stop their loud "hillbilly" music. Kristen, while walking home, meets Taryn (Jennifer Connelly), a junior lesbian student who warns Kristen about walking alone late at night and invites her to a student group. Malik's roommate, Wayne, is then introduced, with Malik angry about his filthy bed area.
The next day, Fudge points out the self-segregation of the various ethnic groups on campus. We then see Malik's first class, with Professor Maurice Phipps (Laurence Fishburne). In the class, Malik's and Kristen's names (among others) are called out for having financial problems, embarrassing them. 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.
Fudge returns to his room with his friend Dreads (Busta Rhymes), and plays his music loud, disrupting Remy's studying. When Remy complains, Fudge mocks and threatens him, causing Remy to move out. Later, Remy is beaten by Malik at a video game, then rejects an offer of pool from Wayne and David Isaacs, Remy's new Jewish roommate. Kristen is then shown getting drunk and leaving with frat boy Billy, retreating back to his frat room. Billy and Kristen prepare to have sex, but when Billy indicates that he does not have a condom, Kristen decides she doesn't want to have sex. Despite this, Billy ignores her refusal, and rapes her. She eventually fights him off, and flees.
Monet returns to their room and finds Kristen crying in her bed. When Billy calls, Monet refuses give the phone to Kristen, and Billy insults her racially. Angered, she turns to Fudge, who recruits his friends to confront him at the frat party. Fudge and Dreads pull Billy outside, threatening him and forcing him to apologize. The security guards arrive and the black students leave. Kristen attends Taryn's student group on harmony between different groups.
Malik borrows a copy of the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. After telling Fudge he only needs it for a class, Fudge kicks him out, telling him to read it for himself and not for school. That evening, Remy is reading alone outside when he is asked out for a drink by Scott Moss, a white supremacist. He also meets Scott's friends: Erik, James, and Knocko.
Professor Phipps challenges his class (including Kristen and Malik) to determine who they are for themselves and not let others categorize them. Kristen talks about her rape with Taryn, with Taryn encouraging her to report it and attempting to console her. Malik confronts Phipps about a paper he graded, arguing he should have a better grade. When Phipps shows him the various spelling and grammar errors, Malik calls him a sellout. Phipps angrily responds that the world owes Malik nothing and he must work for his own good. Malik is then shown racing in a relay, losing ground to another runner. When his teammates confront him, he responds with Fudge's ideology. He walks away and flirts with fellow runner Deja.
Remy is in Scott's room with James, Erik, and Knocko. The room is decorated with Swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia. Scott expresses his racist beliefs, and Remy is slowly being convinced. Deja is shown helping Malik with his essay and Kristen is shown realizing her attraction to Taryn. Phipps then criticizes Kristen's bland paper, telling her that only writing the facts is fine for journalism, but not for a political science course. Phipps tells her that her purpose at college is to think for herself. Phipps then talks with Malik about his much improved paper. Remy is shown working in a class, surrounded by students of other races. He removes his hat, showing he has 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, flirting with her as well. On Halloween, Monet attends a party with Dreads, Kristen attends a rape awareness rally with Taryn, and Remy and the other neo-Nazis attack an interracial couple. 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 continues spouting Fudge's ideology to Deja, saying he hates feeling like a thoroughbred. Deja rebuffs him, saying he has opportunities that people would do anything for and he should take them. The stretching and running is then intercut in a montage with a love scene, showing they have started dating. Kristen is also going on a date with Wayne.
Scott shows Remy his gun collection and Remy talks about his abusive, survivalist father. Kristen is shown walking holding hands with Taryn. A montage love sequence is shown with Kristen where she sleeps with Wayne, but fantasizes about Taryn. While Malik and Deja talk, Remy approaches, condemning Malik's Black Panther shirt and calling him a racial slur. Malik, angered, goes to Remy's room and confronts him. Remy backs down from a fight, with Malik insulting him and leaving. Remy trashes the room, contemplating suicide. After David returns, he confronts Remy about the mess. Remy starts beating David and Malik intervenes. Remy pulls his Glock 9mm, threatening the two and leaving. Malik runs after him, only to be stopped by security guards asking for ID. Resisting, he is arrested, letting Remy escape. Malik then moves in with Fudge and the rest of his friends.
Malik, Fudge, and Phipps have a discussion on race, knowledge, and "the system". Phipps says that he must play the game of life to win, because no one wants to hear excuses. Kristen begins organizing a peace festival to calm down the students after Remy's actions.
Meanwhile, Scott chastises Remy for dropping out of school, arguing that the white community needs more successful members and that he is betraying his race. After Knocko calls out a racial slur, Fudge, Malik, Dreads, and another black student start a gang fight with the white power skinheads, beating them. Later, Deja confronts Malik on his intentions of dropping out and fighting for no good reason. 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 to action.
We then see Malik and Deja walking at the Peace Fest, with Malik saying he wouldn't drop out because he'd lose her. Remy has moved to the rooftop of a building with the sniper rifle and prepares. Erik stands lookout while the other racist skinheads attack a gay couple to distract security. Remy is obviously having trouble with doing this, but acquiesces when pushed by Scott. He opens fire on the Peace Fest, causing a riot. An unnamed student is killed, and Deja is shot in the stomach. She collapses in Malik's arms. After Phipps tries to help, Malik goes crazy and attacks Remy, meeting him on the stairs and beating him severely and nearly choking him to death before security intervenes and beats him. Security confronts Remy as he tries to leave. Remy pulls his pistol again. Remy apologizes to the police and shoots himself in the head, killing himself. Malik returns and finds that Deja has died, and he collapses into Phipps' arms, crying.
The racist skinheads are shown mourning Remy's death when they see a TV news report of the university shooting. Knocko, Erik, and James then begin celebrating his actions, chanting, "white power". Scott quietly sits back and for a brief moment seems to smile.
Malik and Phipps discuss his future away from the university, with Phipps saying he trusts Malik's judgment. The final scene shows Malik and Kristen meeting at a memorial. Kristen feels guilty about the deaths because she started the festival. Malik assuages her guilt. And shortly after, they part.
- 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
- Colleen Fitzpatrick as Festival Singer
- Morris Chestnut as Track Anchor (Uncredited)
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Student (Uncredited)
Laurence Fishburne won an Image Award, and Ice Cube was nominated for Image Award in 1996.
Critical response 
The film received positive to 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)
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.