Tougher Than Leather

Rick Rubin, USA, 1988)


Tougher than Leather is one of the crudest but most astonishing movies to come from the independent black filmmaking scene in America . (It is apparently so under-the-radar that it does not even rate a listing in Leonard Matlin’s usually comprehensive Movie and Video Guide.)


An extension of the songs and image of the group Run DMC, Tougher than Leather is, like a lot of rap music, a streetwise, survival-fantasy about being an all-powerful gangster.


There is the slightest vestige of a socially respectable message papered over the top of this lawless fantasy: drugs are bad; family is good; black and white America should live in harmony.


But, far more deeply felt than even the would-be gangster shenanigans, and perfectly transparent at the surface level of the film although never explicitly articulated, is its real wish-fulfilment agenda: the perfectly childlike, vengeful desire of these black boys to smash in white faces, blow out white brains, lay white chicks, and trash white property.


Their excited war cry is hard to forget: "That's how it should be when you fuck with Run DMC!"

© Adrian Martin December 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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