In the 90’s era of black urban dramas, such as Juice and Menace II Society, The Inkwell is a low profile cult classic. Straight Out of Brooklyn director, Matty Rich, took a risk in 1994 with the film–which offered the narrative of a more intimate, urban story centered around black characters.
The classic comedy-drama consists of a very nerdy, upstate New York bred Drew (Larenz Tate) trying to come into his puberty in the 1970’s under the scrutiny from his parents that he is mentally unstable. His relationship is strained with his former Black Panther father and mother, played by Joe Morton and Suzzane Douglas, because of Drew’s lack of “normal activity” and social ability. A mini-vacation is a possible solution for this as they visit family at Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks. During this trying two-week period, Drew is submerged into social atmospheres, falls in love and heart break with a young Jada Pinkett, and even loses his virginity to a grown woman on the 4th of July. Whew!
The movie is jam packed with some of the best actors of its time, including Morris Chestnut, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Joe Morton and Adrienne-Joi Johnson. However, despite all its black star power, the film was not received well because it didn’t fit the ’90s commodity of the black urban drama film–tales of sorrow, drugs and violence. But for me it was refreshing. It still is, even a decade after its release.
“The Inkwell wasn’t well received when it first came out because the studios didn’t know how to market a movie about Black families that were not going through turmoil or death; a film where no one was getting shot. They weren’t used to that and felt like there were no audiences for feel-good Black films, so they didn’t promote it.” Larenz Tate, Essence
Watching this movie with fresh eyes, there are a lot of political and social aspects of this movie that would probably be considered “problematic” in current times–the black republican, the depiction of a blerd (black nerd) or the consensual intimacy between Drew and a grown woman. Nonetheless, it was a visual tale that wasn’t being told, which I found intriguing. It showed a different type of pain, aside from the exploited stereotypes in urban communities–something I believe is shifting to this day. With the given context, conversations and themes in this film, I think it’s fair to say this movie was surely ahead of its time.
Check out some shots from The Inkwell below!