The cast of the 1975 film Cooley High reunited at the 13th annual TCM Classic Film Festival to spotlight the film’s breakthrough in Black-produced cinema.
On Friday, Director Michael Schultz and Cooley High stars Glynn Turman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Cynthia Davis, and Steven Williams sat down for a pre-screening talk about the film’s legacy, Chicago Sun-Times reports.
The panel was moderated by TCM host Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago native who also serves as the chief artistic and programming officer of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
“I grew up in Chicago, where ‘Cooley High’ was considered Black national cinema,” Stewart said. “If you were from Chicago, you knew this film.”
Cooley High has been praised by many of the greats in Black cinema, including John Singleton, Spike Lee, and Robert Townsend, who played a small role in the film.
“This film is so influential,” Schultz said. “Without ‘Cooley High,’ there would be no ‘Boyz N the Hood.’”
The film was set in 1964 Chicago and followed the teenage adventures of high school seniors Preach (Turman), an aspiring writer, and Cochise (Hilton-Jacobs), a basketball star. Highlighting their delinquent misadventures (a joy ride on Navy Pier), dating mishaps, and a sudden life-altering event, Cooley High was one of the first films to give a face to Black teenagers across the country.
The movie also helped set the stage for the cast and crew who went on to carry out promising careers in Hollywood. Schultz, now 83, continues to direct with recent credits, including episodes of the TV series All-American, Black Lightning, and black-ish.
Morris (now 85), Turman (75), Williams (73), and Hilton-Jacobs (69) all remain working actors, with Morris serving as narrator in Peacock’s newest comedy Grand Crew and Turman recently serving as the face of Beyonce’s Ivy Park denim campaign.
“I didn’t realize the significance of what I was doing,” Williams said of how the then-young actors viewed their roles in Cooley High. “It was just a gig, then it became what it is now.”
The panel discussion comes a year after Cooley High was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry “for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”