On April 29, 2019, the cinematic world lost a visionary trailblazer in John Singleton. He skyrocketed to fame when at 24. A little known film titled “Boyz N The Hood” sent him straight into the history books as well as the movie making stratosphere. He became the first African-American and youngest director ever nominated for an Academy Award. His look on socio-economic and cultural differences in this film was unlike anything seen before and paved the way for directors such as Spike Lee to tell two sides of the same but very different story. Not bad for your early 20’s huh?
Now I could sit here and spout off the facts and accolades and accomplishments of Mr. Singleton, and there are many, but for this article I’m going to touch on my own personal feelings about him and how this movie started some long overdue conversations.
“Boyz N The Hood” is a 1991 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Lawrence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and Morris Chestnut. It follows Tre (Gooding) a young black man in South Central Los Angeles as he reconnects with friends, Cube and Chestnut respectively. He tries to navigate the teenage years, the difference between right and wrong, and what happens if you get caught up in the murky gray area in between. The movie was a raw, real look at the gang and drug culture and what it was like to be black in America. This sent shockwaves across the country. It was a hard look at what had long been ignored in most “media outlets”. In my opinion, it was about damn time.
Before films like this, before directors like this, being black in America was never really talked about. We were never represented on the screen; however, Singleton showed the world what was known but never spoken about; Black America struggling, loving, living, and surviving in the world. Furthermore, it wasn’t always a pretty picture. It was gritty, raw, and real. The strangest thing happened, it became part of a national narrative in a way it hadn’t been before. It was a beautiful thing and I truly believe if John Singleton hadn’t come along some of these issues may still be (pun intended) in the dark. For that I will be forever thankful.
And while “Boyz N The Hood” was hardly his last foray into social and cultural Pandora (“Poetic Justice”-1991, “Higher Learning”-1995, “Baby Boy”-2001, and produced “Hustle & Flow”-2005), in my opinion it was the most impactful. To Singleton, he wasn’t doing anything special, he was just showing the world his point of view. When asked how it felt to be an African American Director during an interview, he smiled and said ” It’s true. I am a director. Being black is just icing on the cake.” Well, Mr. Singleton, thank you for serving us dessert, sir. There is truly nothing sweeter than the truth.