Higher Learning (1994)
This drama examines the personal, political, and racial dilemmas facing a group of college freshmen as they begin their first semester at Columbus University. Malik (Omar Epps) is an African-American student attending on a track scholarship; academics are not his strong suit, and he goes in thinking that his athletic abilities will earn him a free ride through college. Fudge (Ice Cube), a "professional student" who has been at Columbus for six years so far, becomes friendly with Malik and challenges his views about race and politics in America, while Professor Phipps (Laurence Fishburne), a black man who teaches political science, firmly tells Malik that he will not be graded on a different standard either because of his race or his ability to run quickly. With Deja (Tyra Banks), Malik finds a girlfriend, a tutor, and a training partner all rolled into one. Meanwhile, Kristen (Kristy Swanson), a somewhat naive young woman from California, meets a boy named Billy (Jay R. Ferguson) after both have had too much to drink at a beer blast; Kristen soon becomes a victim of date rape and becomes involved with a campus feminist group to deal with the painful experience. While working with the women's group, Kristen gets to know Taryn (Jennifer Connelly), a strong but understanding woman who is also a lesbian, and she finds herself becoming attracted to her. And Remy (Michael Rappaport) is a confused young man from the Midwest who feels lost in the multi-cultural atmosphere of Columbus. He is approached by Scott (Cole Hauser), a member of a group of racist skinheads, who believe that Remy is a perfect candidate to help carry out his group's violent goals. Keep an eye peeled for Gwyneth Paltrow, who has a bit part as a student; rap stars Busta Rhymes, D-Knowledge and Mista Grimm also appear in supporting roles. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for Higher Learning
Despite some likable performances (Epps is especially winning), the drama in Higher Learning is constricted, hemmed in by Singleton's compulsion to view his characters as walking paradigms of racial and sexual politics.
Higher Learning has a great many things on its mind, which immediately places it in a rather exclusive category of American films these days.
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.
Everyone here, from beer-swilling white fraternity boys to rap-loving black students harassed by the campus police, can be judged at face value. Everyone is exactly what he or she seems.
Higher Learning is often clichéd, unfocused and didactic. But Singleton has a goal most of his contemporaries have given up on: He wants to make a movie that makes a difference.
Presenting problems is not the same as dramatizing them successfully, and as strong as his message is, Singleton has not found the best way to deliver it.
The film lapses into polarized melodrama but it's a handsome piece, displaying a fair understanding of our desperate need to belong.
Singleton gets points for exposing the hypocrisy of "politically correct" institutions, but stilted dialogue and cardboard characterizations undermine the message.
For anyone who's been to USC, it's a pretty hilarious parody of life there. If you take it as presented, however, it's over-dramatic and unbelievable.
Another tour-de-force for Singleton
John Singleton at his most pretentious and preachy.
Flawed but often arresting drama
A flawed endeavor... but still an entertaining and thought-provoking film.
Singleton deserves praise for shining the spotlight on some of today's biggest social issues; it's just unfortunate that the laws of cinema ultimately blunt some of his messages.
The plot would all mean something if Singleton offered his characters any engaging conflicts--they all seem recycled from movies of the week.
It's an ambitious but unfocused effort which is admirable for its balanced perspective but leaves critical characters as mere representations of the stereotypes it seems to be challenging.
Audience Reviews for Higher Learning
a gripping story of race relations at the university level. thankfully most universities are beyond this, as is much of american society, but there are still places in the u.s. where this sort of tragic ignorance remains and this is a great film to address the issues. many only decent actors really stepped up their game for this film, and rapaport was simply sensational. an underrated and under appreciated film.More
I remember in late '94 or early '95 when I and about 5 other students were helping out a teacher outside of class in her room, and she asked what our favorite movie is currently. Two said "Higher Learning," two (one of them me) said "Speed," and one said something else. I never saw this movie until 2007, and while I still prefer "Speed," this really was an excellent movie.
It deals with so many touchy subjects and is like a coming of age drama/crime film. It reminded me of going to high school and college and the struggles we go through while trying to find ourselves during those times. Definitely see this one.
John Singleton's ability to delve into multi-issues and stories creates a superb drama in the most unusual of settings - a university campus. Headed by a superb cast including Michael Rapport, Jennifer Connelly, Ice Cube, Omar Epps, and Kristy Swanson, Higher Learning visualises freshman's first step into the new world, and the many issues and lessons they have to deal and learn to make it. From racial, sexual, political and personal, this movie engages these issues in a maze of superb acting and lines, with credit going to Laurence Fishburne as the Political Science lecturer who steals his screen slots with his thoughtful, powerful and engaging presence and lessons. Ice Cube is also a standout, playing a ghetto student, obviously entrenched in the black stigmata and social status, but showing that he is also a refined and poltically savvy individual with heart and a will to learn and build his own ideals and apply it to the world around him.
Watch this for a good insight into uni or college life and the many views from many sides - a movie which works to create understanding - and show that not everything that needs to be learnt is in a classroom.
For those who are willing to open their eyes to understanding and objectivity - but as Fishburne states: this isn't about objectivity - you have to make a stand.
Welcome to the real world.
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