Poetic Justice (film)

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Poetic Justice
Poetic Justice (1993 movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Singleton
Written byJohn Singleton
Produced byJohn Singleton
Steve Nicolaides
Dwight Alanzo Williams
CinematographyPeter Lyons Collister
Edited byBruce Cannon
Music byStanley Clarke
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • July 23, 1993 (1993-07-23)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million
Box office$27 million

Poetic Justice is a 1993 American romantic drama film written and directed by John Singleton and starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur with Regina King and Joe Torry. Maya Angelou, who wrote the poems featured in the film, appears as one of the three elderly sisters whom the characters meet at a roadside family reunion. The Last Poets appear toward the end of the film. The plot of the movie is based on Tupac's brief romance with Ann Marie Rose, now Ann Marie Adams, with whom he struck up a relationship in between takes on the set of the film Juice, in which he starred. Adams, an aspiring poet who frequented the Brooklyn Moon cafe in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was a student at Brooklyn College known for her trademark braids.

Poetic Justice reached No. 1 in the box office its opening weekend, grossing $11,728,455. It eventually grossed a total of $27,515,786. Jackson received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song for "Again", which also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was later referenced in Kendrick Lamar's single "Poetic Justice", which was titled after and based on the film. The song sampled Jackson's "Any Time, Any Place."

Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film has a cult following, especially for the chemistry between Jackson and Shakur.[1]


Justice (Janet Jackson) is a young woman living in South Central, Los Angeles, named as such by her late mother, who gave birth to her while attending law school. After the shooting death of her boyfriend Markell (Q-Tip), Justice becomes deeply depressed, spending most of her time with her cat White Boy in the house that she inherited from her grandmother, and only going out to her job at a local hair salon. A talented poet, Justice reads many of her poems throughout the film, both to other characters and in voice over.

While she is working at the salon one day, a young postal clerk named Lucky (Tupac Shakur) arrives and begins flirting with her. She and her female boss Jessie rebuff his advances, pretending to be lesbians and mocking Lucky with their "relationship".

Lucky has also suffered tragedy in his life: his main focus is caring for his young daughter Keisha, whom he had to forcibly remove from the care of her crack-addicted mother Angel, who was using drugs and having sex with her drug dealer while leaving the child unattended in the apartment. Lucky dreams of a professional career in music and shows considerable promise, but insists that his cousin is the true talent.

Justice's friend Iesha (Regina King) manages to talk Justice into taking a road trip to Oakland with Iesha's boyfriend, Chicago (Joe Torry), Lucky's co-worker at the post office. Justice warily accepts, mainly because she has to go to Oakland for a hair show and her car had stopped working at the last minute. Unbeknownst to Justice, Lucky is also on the trip, and she will now be sharing a postal van with him and their two mutual friends. Initially they argue, but they soften towards each other as they gradually discover their similarities.

The quartet make a couple of detours, the first being a family reunion barbecue they see signs for on the road, where it becomes apparent (although there were ample hints earlier) that Iesha and Chicago's relationship is troubled. Iesha openly flirts with another man at the barbecue, while Chicago broods watching her behavior. Iesha and Chicago argue in the mailtruck until Justice talks to Iesha about her behavior with alcohol. Iesha throws up and cries on Justice and apologizes to her.

At the next stop, a carnival, Lucky and Justice grow closer while discussing their lives. After leaving the reunion, they stop at a beach where each of the four characters contemplate their separate situations in internal monologues. Afterwards, the friction between Chicago and Iesha explodes when Iesha informs Chicago that she has been seeing someone on the side, and he physically attacks her. Lucky initially decides to abstain until Justice defends Iesha by kicking Chicago in the groin, who retaliates by physically and brutally threatening Justice. Lucky, Justice, and a bleeding and shaken Iesha leave Chicago alongside the road and continue on their journey.

Lucky stops the postal van at a beach, and Justice goes to see what's wrong. She begins opening up to him about her life, and Lucky becomes sympathetic. They share a kiss, and Justice walks away apparently unsure of her feelings for Lucky. She goes back to him, and they kiss again.

When the now-trio arrive in Oakland, they receive news that Lucky's cousin, with whom he had been working on recording music, has been killed. Blaming himself for not being in Oakland sooner and believing he could have prevented the shooting had he been in town, Lucky angrily blames Justice for distracting him while they were on the road. Jessie advises Justice and Iesha about men before the hair show. Lucky's uncle and aunt give him his cousin's recording equipment. Lucky decides not to return to work and to take care of Keisha.

Several months later, Lucky meets up with Justice again back at the hair salon, bringing Keisha. Remorseful over his conduct in Oakland and his cruel words towards Justice there, he apologizes. She smiles at him coyly and they passionately kiss. She then turns her attention to Keisha, fussing over her hair. Justice and Lucky's eyes meet over Keisha's head and they smile, as strongly connected as ever.



On July 23, 2013, John Singleton spoke with writer Lathleen Ade-Brown for Essence magazine and discussed the 20th anniversary of the film. The interview mentioned that in 1993, black female leads were rare and he wanted to give a voice to young African American women. He also revealed whose idea it was for Janet Jackson to wear the now iconic box braids: "That was a collaboration between myself, Janet, [dance choreographer] Fatima Robinson and dancers named Jossie Harris and Ann Marie Rose. Jossie had the braids in Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video,. I brought her and Fatima and a couple of other dancers over to hang out with Janet and they all became friends. I said, "Why don't we try and do Janet's hair like Jossie's hair?" We got the hairstyle from Ann Marie Rose, now Adams who lived in Harlem and had to braid her hair so it suited Janet to get it done like Adams, who is known as black princess ara. Of course, they just put it in a West Coast movie.".[2]

Jada Pinkett, Lisa Bonet, Monica Calhoun and many other popular actresses auditioned for the role of Justice, though Singleton knew from the script's draft that the role was solely intended for Janet Jackson.[2] Rapper Ice Cube was offered the lead role of Lucky, but turned it down, stating that he was not in a point in his career that he would play in romantic movies. The movie was filmed in 1992.


The film opened July 23, 1993 in the United States. Cineplex Odeon initially decided not to release the film at its Universal CityWalk Hollywood theater due to fear of violence. Rita Walters called Cineplex Odeon's decision racist and they agreed to delay the release until July 28. Around the country, five violent incidents occurred around theaters during the film's opening weekend, including a homicide outside a Las Vegas theater.[3]


Box office[edit]

According to Box Office Mojo, Poetic Justice made $27,515,786 in the domestic box office with the budget being $14,000,000. For its opening weekend it opened at number one at the US box office with over $11,000,000 in ticket sales.[4][5][6] It ranked 20th for the year of 1993 openings and 21st for highest R-rated movies of 1993.

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its release, Poetic Justice received mostly negative reviews[7] with most critics comparing it unfavorably to Singleton's debut film Boyz n the Hood. Much of the acclaim was directed to the performances by both Jackson and Shakur, with criticism stemming from the writing and story line.

The film currently holds a 34% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews. The site's consensus states; "Poetic Justice is commendably ambitious and boasts a pair of appealing stars, but they're undermined by writer-director John Singleton's frustrating lack of discipline."[8]

  • Roger Ebert: "...Boyz n the Hood was one of the most powerful and influential films of its time, in 1991. "Poetic Justice" is not its equal, but does not aspire to be; it is a softer, gentler film, more of a romance than a commentary on social conditions." He also stated, "...Poetic Justice unwinds like a road picture from the early 1970s, in which the characters are introduced and then set off on a trip that becomes a journey of discovery. By the end of the film, Justice will have learned to trust and love again, and Shakur will have learned how to listen to a woman. And all of the characters - who in one way or another lack families - will begin to get a feeling for the larger African/American family to which they belong. The scene where that takes place is one of the best in the film."[9]
  • Leonard Klady of Variety stated: "Though aiming to create a feel for the locale, Singleton periodically loses sight of audiences unfamiliar with the colorful lingo. Poetic Justice has a lot to commend, but discipline is not high on the list. That flaw will be a major stumbling block toward wide appeal, and overseas prospects seem particularly remote."[10]

Despite the middling reviews from mainstream critics, the film is considered by many as one of Singleton's most enduring films.[11]

Professional reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
Entertainment Weekly C-[12]
Los Angeles Times Mixed[13]
Rolling Stone Mixed[14][7]
The New York Times Unfavorable[15][7]
The New Yorker Unfavorable[7]
Time Unfavorable[7]
Variety Mixed[10]
The Village Voice Unfavorable[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[16] Best Original Song "Again"
Music and Lyrics by Janet Jackson and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures Won
Golden Globe Awards[17] Best Original Song – Motion Picture Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards[18] Worst Actress Janet Jackson Nominated
Worst New Star Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Won
Most Desirable Female Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Tupac Shakur Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Janet Jackson Nominated


The soundtrack album was released on June 29, 1993 through Epic Soundtrax, and consisted of a blend of hip hop and R&B music. It peaked at number 23 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States and was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 25, 1993. Three charting singles were released from the album: "Indo Smoke" by Mista Grimm, "Get It Up" by TLC, and "Call Me a Mack" by Usher Raymond. Recorded at Unique Recording Studios, New York City[19]

The soundtrack also has the Stevie Wonder song "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer", a track that was originally on his 1970 Motown Records album Where I'm Coming From. The song "Definition of a Thug Nigga", recorded by Tupac Shakur for the film, later appeared on his 1997 posthumous album R U Still Down? (Remember Me).

Due to the film's casting of two major music stars of the time, there was a lot of hype surrounding the release of the movie. Many were excited to see how the dynamic between Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur would manifest itself in the film both visually and musically. On the soundtrack, each artist was given a single song. Tupac's "Definition of a Thug Nigga" could be seen as an example of braggadocious, violent rap music, but it could also be viewed as a cultural exposition on a lifestyle that Shakur felt to be systemic and inherent in the lives of his peers.


  1. ^ Roberts, Amy (February 17, 2017). "You Need To Rewatch These '90s Cult Classics". Bustle. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Ade-Brown, Lathleen (23 July 2013). "EXCLUSIVE: John Singleton on the 20th Anniversary of 'Poetic Justice,' Working with Janet Jackson and Tupac". Essence. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  3. ^ Archerd, Army; Ayscough, Suzan (August 9, 1993). "'Poetic' violence surfaces". Variety. p. 11.
  4. ^ Fox, David J. (1993-07-27). "Weekend Box Office : 'Poetic' Finds Its Place in Line". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
  5. ^ Fox, David J. (1993-08-02). "'Sun' Rises Over 'Justice'". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2012-11-02. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  6. ^ Fox, David J. (1993-07-26). "Poetic' Finds Justice at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Crix' picks". Variety. p. 18.
  8. ^ "Poetic Justice". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  9. ^ "Poetic Justice". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2021-02-03.3/4 stars
  10. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (1993-07-20). "Poetic Justice". Variety. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  11. ^ Williams, Stereo (Feb 3, 2019). "John Singleton on That Tupac AIDS Test: 'That Was a Joke!'". Retrieved Oct 15, 2019 – via www.thedailybeast.com.
  12. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (July 23, 1993). "Poetic Justice". Retrieved 2021-02-03. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  13. ^ TURAN, KENNETH (1993-07-23). "Movie Reviews : 'Poetic Justice': Traveling on a Bumpy Road". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  14. ^ "Poetic Justice". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Review/Film: Poetic Justice; On the Road To Redemption". Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  16. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  17. ^ "Poetic Justice – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ "1993 RAZZIEŽ Nominees & "Winners"". The Official RAZZIEŽ Forum. Archived from the original on 17 February 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  19. ^ Unique Recording Studios (April 10, 2014). "Poetic Justice". Facebook. Retrieved May 24, 2021.

External links[edit]