Boyz N’ Hood: John Singleton’s Impressive Directing Debut

Tribute to John Singleton, who died yesterday at the age of 51.

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.

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.

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.

Singleton turns a typical coming-of-age drama into an expression of the contemporary social 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


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.

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