Ernest Dickerson Explains How A Book & Bus Rides Inspired Juice (Video)

Last year, Ernest R. Dickerson’s Juice celebrated its 25th anniversary. The stylish cinematographer for Spike Lee made his directorial debut with the 1992 crime thriller that starred Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur, plus featured music by The Bomb Squad. The cinematographer for Krush Groove brought Hip-Hop culture to his new plateau, well beyond a debut role for Shakur and a memorable Eric B. & Rakim title song. The film features DJ battles, appearances by Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dré & Ed Lover, as well as roles for Queen Latifah, Treach, and Oran “Juice” Jones.

In 2001, Dickerson directed Bones. That film starred Snoop Dogg, and paid homage to 1970s and 1980s grind-house films that the rapper (and director) liked. It starred Pam Grier and Juice alum Khalil Kain. Fittingly, Ernest R. Dickerson reunites with Snoop on GGN. There, the Juice co-writer details where the inspiration for the beloved first film comes from.

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“It had been brewing around for a long time, ’cause we wrote the script in ’81 and ’82, but nobody wanted to make it,” admits Dickerson at the 3:30 mark. “Nobody wanted to touch it. Everybody said, ‘Forget about it; you’re never gonna get this made.’ So it sat on the shelf.”

By the early 1990s, plans changed. In 1989, Dickerson was cinematographer on Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated Do The Right Thing. After years working with Lee, Eddie Murphy, and Law & Order, Hollywood was finally ready for Dickerson’s vision beyond the camera. “[Juice] came from a few places, man,” continues Ernest. “There was a book that I grew up with called Manchild In The Promised Land [by] Claude Brown. [It is] about this brother growing up in Harlem. [He was a] young gangster growing up in Harlem in the late ’40s, early ’50s. A lot of what his life was like was a lot of what my life was like growing up in [the projects of] Newark, New Jersey. That always fascinated me. Then, when I was working in [Washington] D.C., I had a summer job at the Post Office. You had to check in by 6:59am—7:00, you were late. It had to be 6:59am. So I’m on the bus—and this is before the sun comes up—and there were always these young brothers, these young kids that were nine, 10, 11 years old on the bus and it looked like they’d been out all night long. I was just like, ‘What were they doing all night? What kind of stuff did they get into?’ I said, ‘There’s a movie in that.’ So, years later, after I got out of NYU Film School, my friend Gerard [Brown] and I, we decided to write a script to try and sell ourselves as a writer/director team. So we did that.”

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Dickerson adds that he interviewed his brother-in-law, a teenager living in Harlem at the time. “A lot of the incidents came from stories of him and his friends.” One story was how a 17-year-old was having an affair with a twenty-something divorcee. En Vogue’s Cindy Herron played that character, named “Yolanda” in the 1992 film. Notably, Snoop Dogg says that his attraction to Herron in Juice prompted him to collaborate with her. Recently, he guested on En Vogue’s “Have A Seat.”

Snoop asks Dickerson about “Sweets,” the character of the gun-hustling older lady. “The lady that sold ‘Q’ the gun, ‘Sweets,’ that was my mom,” reveals the director of the actress credited as Jacqui Dickerson. “My mom used to live around the corner from Malcolm X. She knew Malcolm back in his zoot-suit days, when he was ‘Malcolm Little.’ I found out that all these people that had been coming to my house over the years, friends of the family, a lot of ’em were numbers-runners [and] gangsters in some way. I said, ‘Wait a minute. Growing up, my mom knows so many O.G.’s, I know she can play one.’ So. She really practiced, [cocking] that gun right.”

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Last year, Ernest R. Dickerson directed Double Play.