Belly is one of the most important movies in the history of Black cinema.
Yeah, I said it, and I’m not afraid of any of y’all. This movie is hotly debated among Black people. “It looks like a music video.” “It’s dark. No, not the mood, the lighting.” “It makes no sense.” “What is that movie even supposed to be about?” “That’s what happens when you give rappers acting jobs.” “That’s why they never should’ve given these people money.”
Is the movie a cinematic masterpiece? In a word, no. But it’s valuable because it captured so much of the ethos of the time it came out, in 1998. For one thing, it showed things as they were in people’s heads, and reflected how they interacted with the culture. Kids today won’t understand, but people actually used to sit around the TV watching hours and hours of music videos. You’d wait for a music video you really loved to come on, and you’d discover entirely new music that way. Music videos had reached the level of short feature films. The budgets had grown huge and production values had gone through the roof. You’d see helicopters, speedboats, exotic locations, explosions, quality computer generated images, and crazy cameo appearances. Music videos started to get to be longer than the actual songs. At R. Kelly’s peak, his “Down Low” video series was epic. They singlehandedly reenergized Ron Isley’s career as Mr. Big. R. Kelly kept on banging Mr. Big’s women, until finally Mr. Big had him beat down and dropped off to die in the desert. For a while, there was talk of an R. Kelly/Mr. Big movie, WHICH I WOULD STILL GLADLY PAY MONEY TO SEE. During that time, Hype Williams was one of the most prolific and sought after video directors. So it was inevitable that he would one day make a feature length film, and when he did, its opening sequence would look like this. I’m sorry I can’t embed it, but you need to click on that link. I can say this without hyperbole: I’m going to let you finish, but Hype Williams created one of the greatest opening film sequences of all time. Of course it looks like a music video. It’s the point. The music videoness of it makes the scene matter as much as it does. And that sequence breathed new life into Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life.” I can’t even hear that song without thinking about a slow motion robbery happening under ultraviolet lights. Continue Reading