This past Thursday afternoon I had the chance to call into a college conference call with Sunny Suljic, Olan Prenatt, Ryder Mclaughlin and Gio Galacia, four of the five members of the cast of Jonah Hill and A24 Entertainment’s latest hit movie “Mid90s.”
Although this was the first big screen appearance for all except Suljic, the group has actually been in the limelight for a number of years now, at least in Los Angeles, for their popular skating, clothing and cinema collective called Illegal Civilization (Illegal Civ). Friends and collaborators with big-name musicians like Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean and Vince Staples, the group has made several tours around the globe as a result of their endeavors.
Unaware of all of this going into the movie, however, I went into State Theatre’s free early screening of the film last Wednesday fairly free of expectation, other than that the name “Mid90s” sounded to me like another “Dazed and Confused” or “Kids.”
Walking in a few minutes late, I entered to a would-you-rather conversation onscreen about having sex with your mom or your dad. The group of five friends were sitting on the couches of the skate shop, the workplace-turned-home for the crew. While you’d expect to be annoyed by this conversation, it immediately gives us insight into the sarcastic, carefree and light-hearted nature of the group.
Though their characters use certain homophobic and racist slurs that went unchecked two decades earlier, this kind of unbridled dialogue made the characters so believable that they retained their likeability. I wondered to myself later that night while discovering a treasure trove of Illegal Civ videos whether Jonah Hill had indeed written everything that ended up being said or whether he had let the group do what they had been doing for years prior in their YouTube film shorts.
Thus, given the chance the following day, I asked them what their working dynamic with Jonah was to get the dialogue right. Sunny answered that they wanted to make sure to get all the slurs right, and they would often work for an hour before each scene talking this over. This wasn’t really what I was looking for, however, so I interjected — “I just… would you guys follow his writing specifically?” To this Sunny expeditiously responded that he had indeed read the script, and that none of it was improvised. Before he could finish, Ryder chimed in that all of the language was put in there for a reason, but before Ryder could finish Sunny interrupted saying: “shut the fu— yo, yo, no. I’m sorry. Continue.” From here, all cohesion in the conversation was lost. Ryder replied: “What the hell?” as all four members of the cast laughed. When the A24 representative tried moving on, Sunny shouted, “Oh shit! I really just fucked up Ryder’s response, I’m sorry.” From here, Gio and Olan randomly quoted the movie, and before I knew it the conversation had descended into the same kind of headassery as many others had in the movie.
This hooliganism is just the byproduct of the cast’s closeness both on and off the set. In the movie, skating turns a group of kids from different walks of life into a family. Much the same is true for Illegal Civ. Their videos on YouTube promote self-expression, creativity and diversity through the common calling of skating. The linked video is the buildup to selling out a show of 500 at the Roxy Theater in LA back in early 2017. From the start, the collective’s positive creative energy is contagious. The show, for which they managed to get Compton’s Earl Swavey and Van Nuys’s Slow Hollows, is a celebration of rap, trap and rock and demonstrates how the common bond of music can get otherwise discrete cultural groups dancing together like there’s no tomorrow.
If “Mid90s” feels like a shout for the return of ’90s skatepark culture — a time in which cultural barriers were broken down for the sake of a common love — Illegal Civilization is answering that call. Jonah Hill has his cast to thank for making his musings a reality both on and off the big screen.