Cooley High is a cinema mile-stone that is seen by many as a pioneering movie in black cinema history as well as the fact it led the way for such coming-of-age films as I Vitelloni, American Graffiti, Diner, Boyz N the Hood, and Dazed and Confused.
The film is a snap shot of a few days into the lives of Leroy “Preach” Jackson (Glynn Turman) and his best friend Richard “Cochise” Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), two black high school students at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School in Chicago, Illinois, during the early 1960’s.
Preach is an aspiring writer who reads poetry and history books for fun, and secretly composes his own poems, but is disinterested in school resulting in poor academic results. Cochise on the other hand is a basketball star who hopes to go to college on an athletic scholarship.
The backdrop to all their adventures is a poor urban neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Through various interactions of friends and family we learn that Preach’s mother works three jobs to support him and his two younger sisters, whilst Cochise lives with his extended family in a crowded apartment. Some slight juxtaposition is presented in the fact that Cochise is seen as the popular, handsome and athletic guy that the ladies love whilst Preach is the skinnier, shorter, stranger one who often gets rejected by the ladies.
Preach: “You guys think it’s so funny because I want to be something besides a factory worker or a football player. Well, that’s because you’re a bunch of stupid niggers that don’t know shit!”
One Friday, Preach and Cochise decide to cut class and go to the zoo with their friends Pooter and Tyrone, despite the fact that Preach has missed an entire week of school, much to the chagrin of his history teacher, Mr. Mason (Garrett Morris). Afterwards they end up back at their local teen hangout – Martha’s Diner, where their friend Dorothy invites them to a “quarter party” (the cost of admission) that night. She further informs them that Mr. Mason moved the history test up to next Monday, meaning that the boys will need to study over the weekend, since they must pass the test in order to pass history.
Preach’s clandestine gambling game with Stone and Robert in the back of the diner is interrupted by Brenda, a beautiful girl who is annoyed that they are blocking the entrance to the restroom. Preach is attracted to her but she coldly rejects him and tells Martha he is gambling, causing Martha to throw Preach out at the point of her meat cleaver.
Preach bets Cochise a dollar that he, Preach, can get Brenda to sleep with him. Preach and Cochise then make out with their girlfriends in a hallway and Preach becomes frustrated that his girlfriend Sandra keeps pushing him away while Cochise’s girl is much more willing. Cochise later returns home to find that he got a basketball scholarship to college, and their adventures continue…
Sadly Norman Gibson who played Robert was shot and killed in Chicago on September 29th 1976 while standing on a street corner watching a dice game. He was 25 years old.
The film is also notable for its soundtrack featured a new Motown recording – G.C. Cameron’s hit single It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.