Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Singleton|
|Produced by||John Singleton|
|Written by||John Singleton|
|Music by||Stanley Clarke|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$38.3 million|
Higher Learning is a 1995 American drama film written and 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.
At fictional Columbus University, we are introduced to three incoming freshmen - two white, one black. They are, respectively: Kristen Connor and Remy; Malik Williams, a high-school track-star who is attending CU on an athletic scholarship.
Kristen and Malik get roommates: Monet, who is black, for Kristen; Wayne, who is white, for Malik. Both sets of roommates generally get along. Monet and Malik attend a dorm party hosted by Fudge White, an Afrocentric and militant senior. Remy, Fudge's roommate, is upset at the loud rap music being played so late. He flags down the all-white campus police to break up the party. Fudge is upset that the cops, led by Sergeant Bradley, come down hard on the black students...yet allows the room down the hall to continue playing their equally-loud "hillbilly" music. On the way back to her dorm, Kristen meets Taryn, an openly-lesbian junior. Taryn warns her about walking alone late at night, and invites her to a student group.
Malik and Kristen's introductory political science class is taught by Professor Maurice Phipps, a conservative black man from the West Indies. Professor Phipps challenges the class to determine who they are for themselves, rather than letting others categorize them.
Fudge and his friend Dreads play loud music, which disrupts Remy's studying. When Remy complains, Fudge just threatens him. Remy moves out and gets a new roommate: David, who is Jewish. Later, Remy loses at a video game to Malik, who further mocks him.
Frat boy Billy rapes a drunken Kristen. Monet finds Kristen crying on her bed, then fields a call from Billy, who uses a racial slur when she does not let him speak to Kristen. Angered, Monet turns to Fudge, who recruits his friends to confront Billy at a frat party. Kristen points out Billy to the black students, who pull him outside and force him to apologize to Monet (not knowing that he raped Kristen).
Kristen joins Taryn's student group on harmony between different races and cliques. Eventually, Kristen opens up to Taryn about her rape. Taryn urges Kristen to report the rape, while attempting to console her. As days pass, Kristen becomes increasingly attracted to Taryn.
Remy becomes increasingly isolated. He is treated to a drink by Scott Moss, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi skinhead. Remy hits it off with Scott's skinhead friends: Erik, James, and hulking weight-lifter Knocko.
Malik confronts Phipps about a paper, arguing for a better grade. When Phipps shows him the various spelling and grammar errors, Malik calls him a sellout for the "white establishment". Phipps angrily responds that the world owes Malik nothing, that Malik must work for himself to make a difference in the world. When Malik's teammates confront him over a poor performance at a track meet, he responds with Fudge's militant Afrocentric ideology. He walks away and flirts with fellow runner Deja. She becomes his girlfriend, and shows him how to write a better essay.
Remy spends more and more time with Scott and his gang. Scott, preaching his racist beliefs, gradually convinces the troubled Remy that "the white man is endangered". He shaves his head and is welcomed into Scott's group.
After attending a rape awareness rally with Taryn, Kristen asks to spend the night. Taryn rebuffs her, wanting Kristen to be sure. Kristen eventually starts separate relationships with Wayne and Taryn, who are unaware that Kristen is sleeping with both of them.
Remy confronts Malik with racial slurs. Remy later pulls a handgun on Malik and David, hurling racial slurs at them both as he packs his belongings and drops out of the university. Again Sergeant Bradley assumes Malik is at fault, and lets Remy escape. Malik moves in with Fudge and his fellow roommates, while Remy moves in with Scott and his fellow Neo-Nazis. Fudge's gang wins a rumble against Scott's. Scott convinces Remy not to drop out of Columbus, because the white supremacists need not only soldiers...but also educated people, such as lawyers, to fight for their cause. Yet Remy, intimidated by Malik, considers violence to be inevitable and therefore the only answer. When Remy insists that he is "for real", Scott shows him a collection of guns - including a sniper rifle - which he keeps hidden in his dorm. Scott challenges Remy to kill for the white race.
Kristen and Monet organize a peace festival for the benefit of their fellow students. Malik and Deja attend. Remy opens fire, with Scott's rifle, from a rooftop. Deja is hit and dies in Malik's arms. Malik intercepts Remy and tries to strangle him, but the campus police prevent him from doing this. Remy apologizes for all that he has done, and then turns Scott's gun on himself before Sergeant Bradley can stop him.
A few days later, Malik and Phipps discuss his future at the university. Phipps displays his trust in Malik's judgment. Later, Malik and Kristen - who is also taking Phipps' course, but has never spent time with Malik until today - chat near a statue of Christopher Columbus which has been converted into a memorial site. Kristen feels responsible for Deja's death (because it was Monet's and her Peace Fest), but Malik insists she's not.
Fudge and Taryn (among others) graduate from Columbus University, with the CU flag girls performing for their commencement-ceremony. The film's closing shot finds Phipps strolling from his office underneath the United States flag fluttering in the wind; the caption "unlearn" is typewritten over the flag, as we fade to the end credits.
- Omar Epps as Malik Williams
- Kristy Swanson as Kristen Connor
- Michael Rapaport as Remy
- Ice Cube as Fudge White
- 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
- Bridgette Wilson as Nicole (cameo)
- Kari Wuhrer as Claudia
- Randall Batinkoff as Chad Shadowhill
- Dedrick D. Gobert as Fudge's homie
- Morris Chestnut as Track Anchor (uncredited)
- Jeanette Bolden as Deja Track Coach (uncredited)
The band Eve's Plum performs, as themselves, at the Peace Fest.
Critical response 
The film received mixed reviews.
Roger Ebert commended 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.
Time Out wrote: "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 that the film 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", and awarded it 3.5 stars out of 4.
Higher Learning currently holds a 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 5.04/10. The site's consensus states; "It's hard to fault Higher Learning's goals; unfortunately, writer-director John Singleton too often struggles to fit his themes within a consistently engaging story."
Singleton commented: "If you look at Higher Learning, which I was 25 years old making it, i'm like chock full of everything that would concern young people: lesbianism, and racism, and everything I could put in that movie. It was a great movie. A fun movie to do. But you could never get that movie made now. Never. The guy shoots everybody, know what I mean?"
The soundtrack, containing hip hop, R&B, rock and jazz music, was released on January 3, 1995, by Epic Records. It peaked at number 39 on the Billboard 200 and number 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.
- Natale, Richard (January 20, 1995). "Violence Erupts in Opening Week of 'Higher Learning'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
- "Higher Learning (1995) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- "Image Awards (1996)". IMDb. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
- Ebert, Roger (January 11, 1995). "Higher Learning". Chicago Sun-Times – via RogerEbert.com.
- "Higher Learning Review". Time Out. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
- Maslin, Janet (January 11, 1995). "FILM REVIEW: HIGHER LEARNING; Short Course in Racism On a College Campus". Retrieved April 30, 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
- Nusair, David (June 24, 2001). "The Films of John Singleton: Higher Learning". Reel Film Reviews. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007.
- "Higher Learning (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
- "DVD Talk Interview - John Singleton". www.dvdtalk.com. Retrieved April 30, 2019.