Sometimes, pieces of art and culture become sacred. There are but a few cultural offerings that are held in as esteemed a regard as Cooley High. Initially released in 1975 and set on Chicago’s South Side, Cooley High starred Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as best friends Preach and Chochise.
It covers the span of the last weeks of their senior year at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational in 1964, a now shuttered high school that served children from the Cabrini-Green projects. It shows the two protagonists as happy-go-lucky teenagers having fun in the urban environment that spawned them. Much of the first half of the movie is filled with comedy and high-jinx.
As the film progresses, it takes a turn toward very real matters like alcohol abuse, responsibility, loyalty, gang violence and responsibility. Its soundtrack featured hits from the Temptations, Diana Ross & the Supremes, as well as G.C. Cameron’s mournful classic, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” which was later remade by Boyz II Men.
I was two years old when Cooley High initially dropped, and I would imagine that I have watched it in its entirety more than 30 times. Its lessons have been fully absorbed into my cultural metabolism.
So much so that my best friend and I used to be able to recite all of the dialogue from the first hour of the movie. As you watch it again and again, different perspectives come into view. Sometimes, I imagined a life as Preach – the intelligent but immature brother who would like to shirk the responsibility that his considerable talents bring.
Other times, it was the Cochise who I envied – the All-State basketball talent with the world seemingly his to command at 17 years old. This film was the first time I had ever hear of the University of Illinois, which is where he’d earned a basketball scholarship.
Earlier this week, it was announced that rapper/actor Common, DeVon Franklin and Tony Krantz would be teaming up to remake the film with Seth Rosenfield slated to pen the script.
(Photo Credit: variety.com)
Though there are other “Coming of Age” stories featuring African-American casts, Cooley High is the genre’s quintessential film for several reasons. Many of the themes inherent in the film’s DNA – gang violence, fragile masculinity, sexism and getting an education – are still topics that dog the lives of Black youth.
Additionally, it doesn’t paint the characters as being helplessly shackled to their circumstances. They’re people with options and choices. Amid the negative forces laying siege to the community around them, they still dream, laugh, have fun and walk with pride and purpose.
And, yes, I most definitely cried when Cochise died.
The individuals who are slated to put the remake together are a dream team on the surface. However, when we’re dealing with a film that defines a particular culture at a particular time so perfectly, one must be meticulous and surgical in breaking down the moving parts of the original: rebuilding said parts, and placing them back together in a manner that resembles the original but is an independent source of light and matter all on its own.
That’s an extremely difficult path.
While I am not disparaging the remake before it’s even cobbled together, I will say that I’ve never seen a remake match the original let alone surpass it in quality of script, creative directing or acting. Hopefully, they manage to pull it off. Cooley High is too important not to.