Dead Presidents 25th Anniversary
Wu- Tang Clan once said, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”. It is a philosophy many live by, whether they want to or not. That is what makes films like Dead Presidents (1995) so relevant today.
Twenty-five year ago, movie making team Albert and Allen Hughes conceived a film that provided a hard-hitting edge to capitalize off their 1993 masterpiece Menace II Society. Set during the mid-20th century during the time of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, the film explores the experiences of Black veterans once they returned to America. The film begs the question that many Black veterans turned to crime as a means of survival, which became an unintended legacy that many of them suffered.
Writer Kenneth Turan in his 1995 review of the film for the Los Angeles Times, writes, “made with fluid skill and a passion for storytelling, its tale of how the Vietnam War and American society affect a black Marine remains accessible while confounding expectations…’Dead Presidents’ echoes the experience of a generation of men whose lives were distorted by Vietnam.”
The Vietnam War has earned its distinction as the war that is the most like the Bermuda Triangle or Las Vegas or Area 51. It is the war one says the least about, but it seems to have had the greatest impact within the last 50 years of American history. Beyond the boundaries of typical warfare, the Vietnam War was fought on the grounds of society and culture.
Writer Gerald F. Goodwin writes in his 2017 article for the New York Times, “Black and White in Vietnam”, that “Black soldiers were nothing new in the American military, but Vietnam was the first major conflict in which they were fully integrated, and the first conflict after the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950’ and early 1960’s.” Goodwin goes on to say that what the consensus of many newspapers and cultural commentators alike said of that time, it was the first time Black soldiers and White soldiers were treated equally. During warfare.
History always seems to tell a different account. Subsequent events such as the assassination of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King and the riots that followed would begin to unpack the racial tension muffled by the façade of domestic tranquility echoed during the Vietnam War. What is portrayed in the film Dead Presidents is the reality erased from history and popular culture.
Crime was not, and is not, inherent to Black people.
Survival, however, is.