ALLEN AND ALBERT HUGHES, 37, always connected over movies. Growing up in Detroit and, later, Los Angeles, the half-Armenian, half-African-American twins were both drawn to violent fare such as Scarface and Rambo. After picking up a camera at 12 years old, they resolved that their films would be steeped in reality. Menace II Society fulfilled that promise. (That was real crack Caine, the urban drama’s D-boy with a heart, was chopping.) It was critically acclaimed, made $30 million against a $3 million budget and showcased the brothers’ gifts—masterful storytelling, gritty yet elegant visuals and an impeccable attention to detail.
At 21, they were crowned cinema’s new enfants terribles. Reveling in their brash and honest reputation, Albert even confronted legendary film critic Roger Ebert over his Dead Presidents review. But their loudest protests were reserved for comparisons with other uncompromising Black filmmakers such as Spike Lee and John Singleton. “People were like, ‘Spike and John. Spike and John.’ That’s all we kept hearing,” Allen says today. “It was like, ‘Damn, that’s the grading curve for the whole class? It’s not Spielberg or Scorsese? It’s Spike and John? You guys are grading us on that curve? Cool. I guess we’ll get a straight A.’ As Black filmmakers, you want to be graded on the curve of the classroom with everyone in it, not just the Black classmates. We never had real beef with John Singleton or Spike Lee.”
They did have real beef, however, with late rap icon and burgeoning movie idol Tupac Shakur after firing him from Menace II Society—he had been slated to play the Muslim character, Sharif. Though the 1993 incident between Tupac and Allen is well known, the brothers have never told their side of the story.
In March 1993, there was an incident between Tupac and Allen at a music video shoot which resulted in Tupac being convicted of assault and battery. “The biggest misnomer is that me and Tupac got into any fight. It was me and 12 Crips that he got to jump me. He didn’t do shit,” Allen claims. “Tupac didn’t lay a hand on me. I had my hands on him. But there was not a physical fight between me and Tupac. It was a physical fight between me and 12 gangbangers. I believe they are called the Rolling 40s and they rolled me up pretty good.”
Allen adds: “Tupac was an artist. Tupac was not a gangbanger. Tupac could not fight to save his motherfucking life. I know that for a fact. He was an immensely gifted person and he was far, far, far from a thug.” He lets out a deep sigh. “I think that’s just years of frustration that just came out.”
IT’S NOW THREE months before the release of The Book of Eli. The Hughes Brothers are focusing on the present but are uncertain about the future. Today, at least, there is work to do. It’s the first day of final sound mixing for the movie. “This is the most magical time,” Allen beams, driving into Universal Picture’s parking lot. “It’s where you work all the magic and smoke and mirrors. You can take a scene that is not great and make it seem like it’s right out of Lawrence of Arabia. We call it spraying Lysol on shit.”
But what’s on the horizon for the Hughes Brothers? Can they continue their craft as filmmakers in an industry that doesn’t take too kindly to free spirits? Will there be work for the brothers who refuse to adopt the mindless movie franchise formula? “I have no idea,” Albert says. “Hopefully, we will roll into [another film] soon because we don’t plan on taking much time off. Shit, if we take time off again, next time you see us, we will be old men.” -Thomas Golianopoulos