This week, the art of cinema lost a truly brave and groundbreaking talent. We remember and celebrate John Singleton with a special screening of his 1991 debut feature film Boyz n the Hood, Singleton’s powerful drama that earned Singleton a place in history as the very first African American filmmaker to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director – and at the age of 24, the youngest as well.
A revolutionary film that was initially met with disdain and controversy from the mainstream before being acknowledged as a truly remarkable contemporary masterpiece, Boyz n the Hoodstars Cuba Gooding Jr. as Tre, a bright underachiever who is sent by his struggling mother (Angela Bassett) to live with his father (Laurence Fishburne), a hard-nosed, no-nonsense disciplinarian, in South Central Los Angeles. Rekindling old friendships with Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a burgeoning football star, and Doughboy (Ice Cube, in a standout performance), a would-be gang banger, Tre and his friends strike a renewed bond as they each choose their own path, with Tre bound for college; Ricky a blue-chip running back with his pick of schools; and Doughboy a drug-dealing gangster who drifts in and out of the county juvenile facility. When Doughboy incurs the wrath of a rival gang, the disastrous repercussions find the otherwise diplomatic Tre considering the violence and retribution that seems to plague the streets around him – and that his stern father has spent his life trying to steer him away from.
Filmed on location in South Central Los Angeles on a modest budget of $6.5 Million, John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood was 1991’s most financially successful film in terms of investment, with a gross of $56.1 million. A deeply personal project for Singleton, who was dissatisfied about the narrative of gang-related films at the time (notably, Colors for being a film about South Central Los Angeles in which both protagonists are white, and New Jack City for essentially being a music video ripe with style and stereotypes), Boyz n the Hood is a thematically rich, expertly directed and acted drama that manages to be knowingly cinematic – heavy visual symbolism from the very first frame, brilliantly utilized bookend references to fellow coming-of-age film Stand by Me – while providing an intimate, palpable, street-level view of a neighborhood and community that, until then, had been otherwise relegated to six o’clock news sensationalism.
“There’s hardly any precedent for a guy like me to have the career that I’ve had. Because I grew up the way I grew up, I’m an in-your-face kind of guy. I developed that as a defense mechanism to survive in the streets. I do that in Hollywood in the service of my passion.”
– John Singleton
“It’s always risky to proclaim a new force in film based upon just one film, but Boyz N the Hood is good enough to suggest that John Singleton is going to be a major player for a long time.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
“Boyz N the Hood is a passionate drama shot with fluency and style, a study of what amounts to life during wartime, with people grimly used to gunfire and helicopters thudding overhead.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Like a jazz ensemble, Singleton and his actors slowly involve us in an almost sensual melange of moods, images and situations that take us inside the ghetto in a way mainstream films almost never do.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times