Set in 1934, Hoodlum is a fictionalized account of the real-life figures of New York organized crime during Prohibition. It centers upon the battle between Black and White coalitions for control of the policy betting systems operating in Harlem, a community in Manhattan.
Hoodlum chronicles the war, posited from the vantage of Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Laurence Fishburne). Formerly incarcerated, he has been released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Johnson seeks to gain control of the “penny bets” racket that many African-Americans, of all socioeconomic strata, place in his community. Playing the number is a way of life in Harlem and the system has been primarily controlled by Stephanie “Madame Queen” St. Clair (Cicely Tyson).