<i>Higher Learning</i>

Higher Learning

1995 film by John Singleton

Higher Learning is a 1995 American satirical drama film written and directed by John Singleton and starring an ensemble cast. The film follows the changing lives of three incoming freshmen at the fictional Columbus University: Malik Williams (Omar Epps), a track star who struggles with academics; Kristen Connor (Kristy Swanson), a shy and naive girl; and Remy (Michael Rapaport), a lonely and confused man seemingly out of place in his new environment.[1]

Quick Facts Higher Learning, Directed by ...

The film also featured Tyra Banks' first performance in a theatrical film. Laurence Fishburne won an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture"; Ice Cube was also nominated for the award. This was the last film appearance of Dedrick D. Gobert, who was shot dead in 1994 prior to the film's release.

The exterior shots and outdoor scenes were shot on the campus of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) while the interiors were shot at Sony Pictures Studios.


Columbus University freshmen Kristen Connor, a friendly but naïve white woman from Orange County, California, and Malik Williams, a black high-school track star on an athletic scholarship, attend a dorm party hosted by Fudge White, a senior and militant Afrocentric activist who has been attending the university for six years. Fudge's roommate Remy, a quiet white man from Boise, Idaho and fellow freshman, contacts the campus police to break up the party due to the loud rap music which is interfering with his studying. Fudge argues that the police unfairly target black students while ignoring white students playing loud "hillbilly" music.

Kristen meets Taryn, an openly lesbian junior, who warns her about walking alone at night and invites her to join a student group. Meanwhile, Malik and Kristen both take a political science class taught by Professor Maurice Phipps, a conservative black man from the West Indies who challenges his students to determine their own identities instead of letting others categorize them.

A turning point occurs when a frat boy named Billy rapes Kristen, ignoring her refusal to have sex without a condom. Monet, Kristen's roommate, discovers her crying and receives a racially offensive call from Billy; she then decides to seek help from Fudge, who recruits his friends to confront Billy at a frat party. Kristen points out Billy to the black students, who force him to apologize to Monet for racially insulting her during his phone call, but they don't know that he sexually assaulted Kristen. Shortly afterwards, Kristen joins Taryn's student group and confides in her about the rape. Taryn encourages Kristen to report the crime while they grow closer and start developing romantic feelings for each other. Eventually, Kristen decides to continue a relationship with Wayne, a college student and friend of Malik she was already dating before meeting Taryn.

When Remy complains about Fudge's habit of constantly disrupting his studies with loud music, Fudge mockingly threatens him, leading Remy to move out and get a new Jewish roommate named David Isaacs. Remy's frustration grows when Malik mocks him after winning a video game. Shortly afterwards, feeling increasingly isolated from his peers at the University, Remy befriends a group of white supremacists/neonazis led by Scott Moss, who live close to the Campus; he is influenced by their racist beliefs and eventually joins their ranks.

After Malik confronts Professor Phipps over a poor grade on a paper and accuses him of selling out to the white establishment, Phipps shows him the various spelling and grammar errors and emphasizes the importance of taking personal responsibility and working hard to make a difference, explaining to Malik his perspective that black people have to work twice as hard to achieve the same social status as white people. Afterwards, Malik improves his writing skills with the help of his girlfriend, fellow track athlete Deja, and learns valuable lessons about self-improvement.

Remy's hatred and racism escalate as he pulls a gun on Malik and David, using racial slurs. He eventually drops out of the university. Encouraged by his neonazi friends, Remy, armed with a sniper rifle, opens fire from a rooftop during a peace festival organized by Kristen and Monet. Deja is killed, and Malik tries to avenge her death by strangling him, but campus police restrain and violently beat him. After apologizing for his actions, Remy then commits suicide by shooting himself in the head in front of campus police.

In the aftermath, Malik discusses his future with Professor Phipps, explaining that he feels discouraged and unsure about continuing his studies after all that has happened. Phipps expresses trust in Malik's judgment. Malik and Kristen, who have had minimal interaction with each other, have a conversation near a converted Christopher Columbus statue, reflecting on the recent events. While Kristen believes the shooting was her fault for organizing the peace festival, Malik reassures her that she is not to blame, and that it was the right thing to do at the time, before walking away from the campus, leaving his fate at the university undisclosed.

The film concludes with Fudge, Taryn, and others graduating from Columbus University. The closing shot features Professor Phipps walking beneath the American flag, with the caption "Unlearn" superimposed over it.


The band Eve's Plum performs, as Themselves, at the Peace Fest.


Higher Learning grossed $38,290,723 in the United States, with $20,200,000 in rentals. It ranked #44 for yearly domestic gross and #17 amongst R-rated films in 1995.[2][3]

For their performances in Higher Learning, Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube were nominated for the 1996 Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Fishburne won.[4]

Critical response

The film received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert commended John Singleton's direction of the film: "He sees with a clear eye and a strong will, and is not persuaded by fashionable ideologies. His movies are thought-provoking because he uses familiar kinds of characters and then asks hard questions about them." He awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars.[5] Time Out wrote: "a stylish, intelligent film-maker, Singleton interweaves the threads of his demographic tapestry with assurance, passion and a welcome awareness of the complexities of the college community's contradictory impulses towards integration and separatism."[6] Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin felt that the movie fell short of its goal, saying it "turns out to be an inadvertent example of the same small-mindedness it deplores".[7] Reel Film Reviews wrote that the film is "consistently entertaining and well-acted all around. While it's not a perfect movie – Cube's character disappears for a 30-minute stretch and Singleton's approach often veers into heavy-handedness – it is nevertheless an intriguing look at the differences between races and how such differences can clash", and awarded it 3.5 stars out of 4.[8]

Higher Learning holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 5.30/10. The site's consensus states; "It's hard to fault Higher Learning's goals; unfortunately, writer-director John Singleton too often struggles to fit his themes within a consistently engaging story."[9] On Metacritic, it has a score of 54% based on review from 20 critics.[10] Singleton commented: "If you look at Higher Learning, which I was 25 years old making it, I'm like chock full of everything that would concern young people: lesbianism, and racism, and everything I could put in that movie. It was a great movie. A fun movie to do. But you could never get that movie made now. Never. The guy shoots everybody, know what I mean?"[11]


The soundtrack, containing hip hop, R&B, rock and jazz music, was released on January 3, 1995 by John Singleton's New Deal Music label through 550 Music/Epic Soundtrax. It peaked at number 39 on the Billboard 200 and number 9 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[12] In addition to "Higher", performed by Ice Cube, the soundtrack includes original music by OutKast, Liz Phair, Tori Amos and Rage Against the Machine.

Pop culture

The character Malik, played by the same actor, Omar Epps, appears in Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, a comedy movie that parodied some known black movies of the 1990s. A year later, after his mates[clarification needed] graduation, Malik had returned to the university where he was shot and killed by a new Skinheads member, who also dealt with a few others black activists, including fictional character Radio Raheem.[13][14]


  1. Natale, Richard (January 20, 1995). "Violence Erupts in Opening Week of 'Higher Learning'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  2. "Higher Learning (1995) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com. Archived from the original on May 18, 2017. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  3. "Image Awards (1996)". IMDb. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  4. Ebert, Roger (January 11, 1995). "Higher Learning". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved February 5, 2021 via RogerEbert.com.
  5. "Higher Learning Review". Time Out. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  6. Maslin, Janet (January 11, 1995). "FILM REVIEW: HIGHER LEARNING; Short Course in Racism On a College Campus". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 30, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  7. Nusair, David (June 24, 2001). "The Films of John Singleton: Higher Learning". Reel Film Reviews. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007.
  8. "Higher Learning (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on November 28, 2017. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  9. "Higher Learning". Metacritic. Retrieved 2022-04-01.
  10. "DVD Talk Interview - John Singleton". www.dvdtalk.com. Archived from the original on February 12, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  11. Inc, Nielsen Business Media (1995-02-04). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  12. Harris, Jon (30 July 2010). "Don't Be A Menace Funny Clip". Youtube. Archived from the original on 11 June 2021. Retrieved 11 June 2021.

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