Evincing greater affinity for the studied cool of Quentin Tarantino than the overt social messages of fellow African-American filmmakers Spike Lee and John Singleton, The Hughes Brothers transcended the pitfalls of a troubled home life to become major successes with their first film, "Menace II Society" (1993). With Allen concentrating his energies on the actors and brother Albert focused on the technical aspects of filmmaking, the twin brothers made a dynamic pair that held nothing back, particularly when talking to the press. Following the surprise success of their debut, The Hughes Brothers took a critical step back with their sophomore effort, "Dead Presidents" (1995), which failed to capture the promise of their first film. Turning to documentary filmmaking, The Hughes Brothers generated a small degree of controversy with "American Pimp" (1999), which some claimed glorified an illegal and often violent profession. They next stepped outside their comfort zone to travel back to Victorian-era England with "From Hell" (2001), a gory and uneven examination of the Jack the Ripper murders. After taking some time off from directing to focus on producing, the brothers stepped back behind the cameras after nearly a decade to helm the post-apocalyptic Western "The Book of Eli" (2010), confirming that the talent evidenced in their exemplary debut was still alive and strong.
Born nine minutes ahead of his twin brother, Allen, on April 1, 1972 in Detroit, MI, Albert Hughes was raised primarily by his mother, Aida, the owner of a vocational rehabilitation company who left his father when the twins were two years old. The family relocated from Detroit to Pomona, CA, just east of Los Angeles, several years later. When the twins were 12, their mother gave them their first video camera, which they used right away to make various short films, including a "How To" school assignment called "How to Be a Burglar." The Hughes Brothers both dropped out of high school in the 11th grade in order to direct music videos, helming spots for such popular rap artists as Tupac Shakur, Tone-Loc and Digital Underground. Meanwhile, the duo also began having their films air on public access cable where one effort, "The Drive By," landed them an agent. With their sites set on making a feature, they subsequently raised $2.5 million to make their debut, "Menace II Society" (1993), which had its world premiere at the Directors Fortnight at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.
Set in the grim surroundings of South Central Los Angeles and informed by the percussive rhythms of gangsta rap, the Hughes Brothers' gritty, but poetic morality tale focused on an 18-year-old drug dealer and car thief (Tyrin Turner) who nonetheless struggles to overcome his bleak surroundings through his love affair with a single mother (Jada Pinkett). Hailed by critics, "Menace II Society" became a surprise hit, earning nearly $30 million at the box office. This surprising success allowed them to negotiate their way out of their commitment to New Line Cinema, which had produced "Menace II Society," in order to sign a two-picture, three-year deal with Disney's Caravan Productions. Meanwhile, The Hughes Brothers were granted a waiver by the Directors Guild of America to take co-credit for directing - the first pair of siblings to do so since Jerry and David Zucker. Duties between the two were evenly split: Allen focused on the actors and business aspects, while Albert dealt with photography, production design, and costumes. They also made a formidable team when facing the media, both shocking and delighting journalists with their playfully irreverent remarks about the state of contemporary Hollywood, like blithely dismissing John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood" (1991) as "an Afterschool Special with cussin'."
The Hughes Brothers demonstrated an unusually high concern about the aural qualities of their work, paying great attention to sound design, background scoring and song selection. New Line profited handsomely from the soundtrack for "Menace II Society" while the brothers, who executive produced the album, received nothing extra for the platinum disc. With this slight in mind, they formed Underworld Records, their own rap/rhythm & blues label, at Capitol Records in 1993. Meanwhile, the duo helmed their second feature, "Dead Presidents" (1995), a period piece starring Larenz Tate as a promising young man who goes off to fight in Vietnam, only to return home disillusioned and underemployed, which leads to him partaking in a poorly planned armored car robbery with tragic consequences. Though misleadingly marketed by Disney as a heist picture, "Dead Presidents" was more concerned with the traumas faced by African-American veterans returning home from Vietnam to few economic opportunities. Despite their intentions, The Hughes Brothers' sophomore effort opened to mixed critical reviews and disappointing box office.
In a surprising turn, they directed their first documentary, "American Pimp" (1999), which used interviews with real-life pimps and their prostitutes to explore the business side of the world's oldest profession. Comparisons to both illegal and legal prostitution were explored throughout, though some complained that the film glorified the lifestyle of the controlling and often violent world of pimps. In the end, however, The Hughes Brothers did highlight prostitutes that had died due to their lifestyle while also interviewing ex-pimps that were either retired or in prison. "American Pimp" made its debut at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival before seeing a limited release in a handful of cities across the United States. Going back to narrative filmmaking, they ventured outside of urban African-American storytelling with "From Hell" (2001), a gory and somewhat disjointed examination of the Jack the Ripper murders from the perspective of Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp), a brilliant, but troubled policeman who uses psychic visions to track down the killer while falling for one of the Ripper's potential victims (Heather Graham).
Following the box office and critical disappointment of "From Hell," The Hughes Brothers stepped back from filmmaking and tried to get a handle on what their next project would be. In fact, the twins ventured off on their own for the first time, with Hughes directing episodes of the short-lived crime procedural, "Touching Evil" (USA Network, 2004), which was based on the British series of the same name. The show focused on an agent (Jeffrey Donovan) in the Organized and Serial Crimes Unit who solves high profile crimes after suffering a near-fatal injury. Though critically acclaimed, the series failed to garner enough of an audience to earn a second season. Hughes' brother, Allen, did manage to helm a few of the episodes. After a nine-year absence, The Hughes Brothers returned to feature filmmaking with "The Book of Eli" (2010), a post-apocalyptic Western about a solitary man (Denzel Washington) who walks the wastelands of America in search of peace and survival while holding the keys to mankind's salvation. Despite mixed critical reviews, audiences helped "The Book of Eli" become The Hughes Brothers' highest-grossing movie then to date with nearly $100 million of domestic box office earned.
Director (Feature Film)
Cinematography (Feature Film)
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Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Moved with mother and twin brother Allen to Pomona, CA when they were nine
Received first video camera at age 12 and began making short films with brother
Made feature debut as director, producer, and story writer (all shared with brother) with "Menace II Society"; earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature
With Allen, co-founded rap/R&B label Underworld Records
Co-directed second film with brother, "Dead Presidents"
Co-directed with Allen documentary "American Pimp," about the underground pimp culture and exploitation of women; film premiered at Sundance
Co-directed film adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel "From Hell," about the 'Jack the Ripper' murders in England; starred Johnny Depp and Heather Graham
Executive produced several episodes of American version of "Touching Evil" on USA Network; brother Allen directed
Re-teamed with brother to direct post-apocalyptic drama "The Book of Eli," starring Denzel Washington