Screenshot: Set It Off (YouTube)

Set It Off is a movie I love watching. It’s such a nonsensical movie for so many reasons that it all blends perfectly, if you let the liquor tell it. It’s one of the greatest mediocre movies in the African-American Cinematic Theater canon. Once you add in the soundtrack, it really is iconic for so many reasons. But in all discussions about the awesomeness of Set It Off, I’ve never heard one single reason being that it contains possibly one of the blackest moments in cinematic history.

When I say black moment, I mean a moment that is so absurd on its face but makes so much sense within the confines of the black community at large. You know what I mean; there are certain phrases and theories and ideologies that I have no idea if they occur outside of the black community, but within it, are just everyday things that we’re all familiar with, comfortable with, even if they make little to no sense. Set It Off contains one such scene, leveled up to Super-Saiyan levels.

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After robbing the first bank and making away with around $NotEnoughMoney a piece, shenanigans ensue. Enter Full Blackness. I can show you better than I can tell you. Please see the video below, then we’ll come back and talk about it.

In case it’s not apparently clear where it goes all-black-everything, let’s break down this scene:

Frankie, Stoney and T.T. show up to tell Cleo to get her shit together and quit trippin’. Cleo is like, We broke but I’m gon’ rob me another bank. Stoney is like, naw boo. Frankie is like, you gotta be nice. For what? To these niggas, we need to get us another bank job. Stoney is like ... heffa, say what? “WE SAID ONE JOB.”

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I don’t know what sets Cleo off—the fact that Stoney refers to see her as Louise (of Thelma & Louise fame) or that she implies that she ain’t all that, but Cleo grabs a gun and puts it in Stoney’s face, against her left cheek in a threatening manner, says “Fuck you, I know you ain’t bailing now” as if to imply that she needs to either “get down or lay down” with the crew. This is where it starts to get really black.

A gun is literally pointed in Stoney’s face and nobody really bats an eye. In fact, you can see Frankie in the back kind of do “this nigga” neck roll. Perhaps it’s just par the course for Cleo but still. THEN, Cleo puts the gun down and Stoney RIGHTFULLY slaps the monkeyshine shit out of Cleo, and T.T. and Frankie and then audibly gasp, the most ridiculous over-reaction CONSIDERING Stoney just had a gun put in her face and nobody seemed to notice.

Cleo, though, took that as the ultimate measure of disrespect, which, under normal circumstances, is right; open-hand-slapping a nigga is pure disrespect ... UNLESS the nigga you slapped just put a gun in your face. The girls separate Cleo and Stoney AFTER THE SLAP (NOT during GunGate), and Cleo is incredulous and hits Stoney with the tried and true, blackness-approved and certified statement, “Oh, you gon’ hit me motherfucker!? Stoney, we go back to FIRST GRADE! You been my peeps for 20 years!”

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Interesting how the length of time knowing someone makes a slap inexcusable but NOT putting a gun in somebody’s face. That scene blows my mind EVERY TIME for its Achievement in Black Excellence in Irrational Action then Underreaction then Overreaction. The only thing missing was the Black Emphasis Hand Clap.

Only in black America does having a gun put in your face equate to just some shit that happens on a Tuesday, but being slapped AFTER it equates to a declaration of war. I applaud the foresight, the execution and the sublime nature of the scene for being so true to form that it seems to have flown entirely under the radar because, well, it just makes sense in the black community.

To Set It Off for excellence in Black Cinematic Achievement ... and for knowing the proper procedure for when a gun is put to your head.

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See what I did there?