- Fred Smith
RZA’s Cut Throat City is #1 on Netflix. It Might be the Right Movie for Right Now.
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Maybe it’s because it was released in 2020, a social-watershed of a year destined to baffle and fascinate historians for decades to come.
Maybe it’s because it was directed by a hip-hop legend in a time when urban voices attuned to the consequences of marginalization are finally getting a prime-slot speaking gig.
Maybe it’s the eccentric cast of stars--including Terrence Howard, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes--who have fought their way to centerstage from the fringes of Hollywood since the elder Bush administration.
Maybe it’s because we’ve needed a movie like this for a long time and it’s finally here at the right time.
Maybe it’s because of all or none of the above. But Cut Throat City is, as of this writing, the number one movie on Netflix.
I don’t think it’s an accident so much as a matter of timing.
Directed by RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame) and set in New Orleans in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina, Cut Throat City is on-the-surface a heist movie that follows a quartet of young gunslingers who get in over their heads with the worst kind of crime lord when a supposed quick score goes wrong.
If it never bothered to delve any deeper than that, the movie would satisfy most Netflix surfers who click on its icon, skim the trailer, hit play, and spend the next two hours with their feet up.
But it’s the film’s undertones and, more importantly, their timing with recent events that make Cut Throat City a movie even never-action audiences may find worthy of consumption and discussion.
That’s because movies like this--with a young black male protagonist (Shameik Moore) who’s been cut off from the American dream and takes matters into his own hands have themselves been marginalized by mainstream Hollywood and its bread-and-butter audience for decades.
They fought for attention in the ‘70s under the blaxploitation label.
They had fleeting moments of glory in the ‘80s so long as their streetwise, foul-mouthed heroes caught the bad guys, put Beverly Hills in their rear-view mirrors and crawled back under their rocks in Detroit.
They spent the ‘90s and the aughts largely shunned from the multiplexes on Friday and Saturday nights, instead finding their devoted audiences as late-night cult favorites on VHS and DVD.
Fast-forward to the present, some fifteen-plus years after Katrina sunk the Big Easy’s 9th Ward, to a time when the smoke from a year fraught with tension and unrest has hardly settled.
Cut Throat City, a movie that might have been lucky to get made ten years ago, sits atop the Netflix ranks.
Netflix, prides itself on being the ultimate movie industry disrupter and knows how to ride a wave while its competitors analyze metrics in the boardroom.
The company was quick to curate and promote black-issue films even before 2020 and now looks to step up its homegrown catalog of socially-aware content.
Less than a year after the death of George Floyd and two weeks after the storming of the Capitol building, Netflix announced a partnership with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi to produce three original projects based on works by the anti-racist author, whose name shot to the top of the best-selling ranks last summer.
Netflix didn’t get to where it is by ignoring the zeitgeist.
Still, the platform may have lucked into an audience favorite with Cut Throat City.
Produced independently by Patriot Pictures and Rumble Riot Pictures on a modest (considering the all-star cast) budget of about $6.5 million according to IMDB.com, the movie was robbed of its time in the film festival limelight and had a minuscule theatrical run in 2020 thanks to COVID, followed by a short stint on the rent-to-stream circuit before landing at Netflix.
It’s fair to speculate that in a year other than 2021, Cut Throat City may well have found a profitable audience on its own via the traditional channels of film distribution.
Like its characters, though, the movie and its makers know better than to sit around feeling sorry for themselves, dreaming up a better past with more favorable circumstances.
Cut Throat City fought for its place at the table by hitting audiences in the jaw with a story it has needed but didn’t know it for some time.
The people have voted with their remote controls. If you’ve got Netflix, it won’t cost anything to see what the ruckus is about.
Then, we can talk about that ending...
Fred Smith's debut novel, The Coolest Labels, is available on Amazon.com and other online book retailers.