Boyz N’ Hood (1991): John Singleton’s Impressive Directing Debut, Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett

John Singleton was one of the first African-American directors to successfully translate the swing and heat of hip hop culture into a coherent and accessible cinematic language.

Ice Cube in Boyz N the Hood

He is responsible for making a quintessential all-black feature in 1991, Boyz N’ the Hood, which launched a whole cycle of low0budget indies about inner-city life.

Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Boyz N’ the Hood received Oscar nominations for original screenplay and director, making Singleton the first African-American and the youngest person to ever be nominated for an Oscar.

Produced for a modest $6 million, it grossed $57 million, an input-output ratio that made it the most profitable picture of the year.

The first all-black movie to be bankrolled by a major studio–Columbia Pictures–Boyz N’ the Hood dealt family disintegration and gang wars. A sharp portrait of violence and retribution, the film centers on the struggles of one family to provide its son with the necessary tools for survival. Having grown up in drug-ridden hoods, Singleton knew the environment firsthand; living in South Central has given him a perspective different from that of white directors.

Boyz n the Hood
Boyz n the hood poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Amidst gang war and hard-core rap, Boyz ‘N the Hood follows three males from pre-teen years to post-adolescence. Singleton turns the sexual confession of Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) into a hyped-up fantasy; the scene of older boys intimidating younger ones becomes a primal myth, both intense and pathetic.

Doughboy, the hood’s gun-toting enforcer, returns from prison with a sense of doom, cruising the streets with a posse, ogling women, sizing up rivals.

Of the trio, only Tre has a father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburn), who steers him away from gang activities. Furious preaches black pride sermons about discipline and dignity. But can the one-parent family survive the mean streets of South Central

Inundated with the crackle of gunfire and whirl of police helicopters, the soundtrack is a constant reminder of the violence and police patrol. Demythologizing ghetto life, while advocating self-sufficiency, Boyz ‘N the Hood featured another novelty: None of the women is a prostitute, servant, or welfare mother–all demeaning roles black women have been assigned to play in Hollywood movies.

Last Act and Epilogue (Spoiler Alert)

Doughboy knows that sooner or later he will face retaliation for the murder he committed the previous evening and accepts the consequences of his crime-ridden lifestyle. He plaintively questions why America does not care about the life in the ghetto, and sorrowfully notes he has no family after Ricky’s death and Brenda’s disowning of him.

Tre embraces him and tells Doughboy that he does have a brother in him, and he walks away emptying the liquor bottle.

The epilogue, which is posted on screen, reveals that Doughboy was himself murdered two weeks later. and that Tre and Brandi were accepted into Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta, respectively.

Singleton has turned a typical coming-of-age melodrama into a singular expression of the unique contemporary social conditions and pressures affecting young black males.

Drawing a contrast between Boyz N’ the Hood and 1980s Brat Pack youth films, some critics have observed that black teens see their life in terms of sheer survival, facing death on a daily basis, whereas white kids in the Hughes (and other directors) perceive life in terms of having fun.

Indeed, introducing fun into black experience as portrayed on screen was the novel point of the House Party film franchise, made in the 1990s.

Released by Columbia on July 12, 1991, Boyz N the Hood was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.  Made on a budget of $6.5 million, the movie earned an impressive $57.5 at the domestic box-office.

Running time: 112 Minutes

Intertextuality:

Singleton has said that his film was inspired by Rob Reiner’s 1986 youth film, Stand By Me.  Specifically, Reiner’s seminal picture influenced an early scene where four young boys take a trip to see a dead body, and the closing fade-out of the main character, Doughboy.

Credits:

Directed, written by John Singleton
Produced by Steve Nicolaides
Music by Stanley Clarke
Cinematography Charles Mills
Edited by Bruce Cannon

Production company and distribution: Columbia Pictures

Release date: July 2, 1991 (Los Angeles); July 12, 1991

Running time: 112 minutes
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $57.5 million

Cast
Cuba Gooding Jr. as Jason “Tre” Styles III
Desi Arnez Hines II as Tre age 10
Angela Bassett as Reva Styles
Laurence Fishburne as Jason “Furious” Styles Jr.
Ice Cube as Darrin “Doughboy” Baker
Baha Jackson as Doughboy age 10
Morris Chestnut as Ricky Baker
Donovan McCrary as Ricky age 10
Nia Long as Brandi
Nicole Brown as Brandi age 10
Tyra Ferrell as Brenda Baker
Redge Green as Chris
Kenneth A. Brown as Chris age 10
John Singleton as the Mailman
Dedrick D. Gobert as Dooky
Baldwin C. Sykes as Monster
Tracey Lewis-Sinclair as Shaniqua
Alysia Rogers as Shanice
Regina King as Shalika
Lexie Bigham as Mad Dog
Raymond Turner as Ferris
Lloyd Avery II as Ferris’ Triggerman (Knucklehead #2)
Jessie Lawrence Ferguson as Officer Coffey