Oscar Directors: Singleton, John–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

September 27, 2020

John Singleton Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance: No; mother pharmaceutical company sales exec; father real estate agent, mortgage broker, and financial planner.

Nationality: US

Social Class: Middle

Race/Ethnicity: Black


Formal Education:


First Film: Boyz N the Hood, 1991; aged 23

Breakthrough: Boyz N the Hood

First Oscar Nomination: Boyz N the Hood; aged 24

Gap between First Film and First Nom:

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations:

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):

Career shape: Known for one film; never fulfilled promise


Last Film:


Career Length: 1991-

Career Output:

Marriage: actress, then


Death: 51

John Daniel Singleton (January 6, 1968 – April 28, 2019) was an American film director, screenwriter, producer, and actor. He was best known for writing and directing Boyz n the Hood (1991), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, becoming, at age 24, the first African American and youngest person to have ever been nominated for that award.

Singleton was a native of South Los Angeles, and many of his films, such as Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), and Baby Boy (2001), had themes which resonated with the contemporary urban population. He also directed the drama Rosewood (1997) and the action films Shaft (2000), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and Four Brothers (2005). He co-created the television crime drama Snowfall. He was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special for “The Race Card”, the fifth episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

Singleton was born on January 6, 1968 in Los Angeles, the son of Sheila Ward-Johnson, a pharmaceutical company sales executive, and Danny Singleton, a real estate agent, mortgage broker, and financial planner.

In a 1993 DIRT magazine interview with Veronica Chambers, Singleton says of his childhood, “When I was growing up, comic books, video games and movies were my buffer against all the drugs, the partying and shit […] I never grew up with a whole lot of white people. I grew up in a Black neighborhood.” [4] He attended Blair High School, Pasadena City College and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He graduated from USC in 1990, and was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.[5] Singleton considered pursuing computer science, but enrolled in USC’s Filmic Writing program under Margaret Mehring.[6] The program was designed to take students directly into the Hollywood system as proficient writer/directors. He cited the original Star Wars film as one of his strongest influences and the work of Steven Spielberg as a source of inspiration.

Singleton’s film debut Boyz n the Hood (1991), an inner city drama starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., Angela Bassett, Ice Cube, and Laurence Fishburne, was both a critical and commercial success. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. For his efforts, Singleton received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.[5] At age 24, he became the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African-American to be nominated for the award (four others – Lee Daniels, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele, and Spike Lee – have been nominated since). The film has since attained classic status, and in 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[8]

His directing ability led to the VFX-driven “Remember the Time” music video for Michael Jackson, which featured Eddie Murphy, Iman and Magic Johnson.[9] His next films were Poetic Justice (1993) and Higher Learning (1995), which were similarly socially conscious and received mixed to positive reviews.[citation needed] Of his work with some of the 1990s’ most visible rappers, Singleton states,

“I come from the same place as rappers. It’s cool because it’s just another form of communication. I have the same sensibilities as rappers. I’m not bourgeois and everything, thinking I’m better than folks. I see myself as the first filmmaker from the hip-hop generation. I’ve grown up with hip-hop music. The films I make have a hip-hop aesthetic. It may not have rap in it, but there’s a whole culture and politics that go with the music. It’s young, Black culture-that’s what I deal with in my films.” [10]

The film Rosewood (1997), Singleton’s historical drama about racial violence, was entered into the 47th Berlin International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear.[11] Both this film and Baby Boy (2001) received very positive reviews and helped establish Singleton’s critical reputation. Additionally, his adaptation of Shaft (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson in the title role, was successful critically and commercially.[12][13]

Singleton later turned to directing action films, such as 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and Four Brothers (2005), which received mixed reviews. In 2005, Singleton teamed with Craig Brewer and financed the independent film Hustle and Flow, once it was clear that most other major backers would not clear it for release.[citation needed] In 2003, Singleton received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[14]

It was announced in 2013 that Singleton was attached as the director of a Tupac Shakur biography film. On April 3, 2015, Singleton reported that production was put on hold.[15] Four days later, it was announced that following creative differences with Morgan Creek Productions, Singleton had stepped down as director, and was replaced by Carl Franklin.[16] Singleton also stated he was planning on making a competing film about Tupac.[17]

After directing episodes of the critically acclaimed TV shows Empire and American Crime Story, he served as an executive producer of the crime drama series Rebel for BET and co-created Snowfall for FX.[18]

Singleton was married to Ghanaian actress Akosua Gyamama Busia from 1996 to 1997, with whom he had a daughter.[19]

On August 23, 2007, Singleton was involved in an automobile accident in which he struck a jaywalking pedestrian, Constance Russell, 57, of Los Angeles. Staying on the scene until police arrived, Singleton was not under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and was released after being questioned. Russell died later in the hospital. The case was turned over to the District Attorney but no charges were ever filed.

On March 19, 2014, Singleton criticized popular studios for “refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films”. Singleton told an audience of students at Loyola Marymount University “They ain’t letting the black people tell the stories.” He also added, “They want black people [to be] what they want them to be. And nobody is man enough to go and say that. They want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are. The black films now—so-called black films now—they’re great. They’re great films. But they’re just product. They’re not moving the bar forward creatively. …When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don’t have anything that’s special.”[23][24][25]

In November 2017, Danielle Young, a journalist for The Root who had interviewed Singleton in June 2017, said he sexually harassed her after the interview and while taking a photo she posted on Instagram.

Illness, death and legacy
On April 17, 2019, Singleton suffered a stroke and was placed under intensive care.[29] He reportedly began to experience weakness in his legs after returning to the United States from a trip to Costa Rica. On April 25, it was reported that he was in a coma, but his daughter claimed otherwise.[31] On April 28, Singleton was removed from life support, and he died at the age of 51 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  He is survived by his mother, his father, and his seven children.

Dozens of actors and musicians paid tribute to him.

Rapper and actor Ice Cube, who worked with Singleton in Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, said: “There are no words to express how sad I am to lose my brother, friend & mentor. He loved [to] bring the black experience to the world.”[37] Cuba Gooding Jr., who was given his first major role by Singleton in Boyz n the Hood, paid tribute to his late friend by singing “One Day More” from Les Misérables, a favorite song of Singleton.

A private funeral was held on May 6, 2019 in Los Angeles, and Singleton was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.[39] The official cause of death was acute ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, and hypertension.[40]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1991 Boyz n the Hood Yes Yes No Nominated- Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated- Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay
1993 Poetic Justice Yes Yes Yes
1995 Higher Learning Yes Yes Yes
1997 Rosewood Yes No No
2000 Shaft Yes Yes Yes
2001 Baby Boy Yes Yes Yes
2003 2 Fast 2 Furious Yes No No
2005 Four Brothers Yes No No
2011 Abduction Yes No No Final Film

Producer only

Year Title Notes
2005 Hustle & Flow
2006 Black Snake Moan
2007 Illegal Tender Also music supervisor
2008 The Making of ‘Illegal Tender’ Documentary short
Executive producer

Year Title Notes
1998 Woo
2004 Time Out Short film
2014 Through a Lens Darkly Documentary
Acting credits
Year Title Role Notes
1991 Boyz n the Hood Mailman
1994 Beverly Hills Cop III Fireman
1995 Your Studio and You Himself Short film;
2000 Shaft Bored Cop with Tea Cup Uncredited
2001 Baby Boy Man Selling Bootleg Movies
2002 8 Mile Bouncer
2003 Baadasssss! Detroit J
Other credits
Year Title Credit Notes
2002 sIDney Mentor to the director Short
Year Title Director Executive
Producer Writer Notes
2009 81st Academy Awards Yes No No Segment: ”The Biggest Movie Event of the Year”
2010 30 for 30 Yes No No Episode “Marion Jones: Press Pause”
2015 Empire Yes No No Episode “Dangerous Bonds”
2016 American Crime Story Yes No No Episode “The Race Card”
2017 L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later No Yes No Documentary television film
Rebel Yes Yes No Director (episode “Pilot”);
Executive producer (3 episodes)
Billions Yes No No Episode “Victory Lap”
2017–2019 Snowfall Yes Yes Yes Co-creator;
Director (2 episodes);
Writer (2 episodes)
Acting credits
Year Title Credit Notes
2013 The Game Himself 2 episodes
2014 Real Husbands of Hollywood 2 episodes
Other credits
Year Title Credit Notes
1986 Pee-wee’s Playhouse Production assistant
1988 Beach Boys: Endless Summer
Music video
Remember the Time for Michael Jackson (1992)
Singleton has cast certain actors in more than one of his films:

Boyz n the Hood (1991) Poetic Justice (1993) Higher Learning (1995) Rosewood (1997) Shaft (2000) Baby Boy (2001) 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) Four Brothers (2005) Abduction (2011)