Boyz N’ Hood: Anniversary Edition

When “Boyz N’ the Hood” opened thatrically in the summer of 1991, it was considered to be both a cultural and artistic event.  Twenty years later, the film has not aged well–it’s too didactic–but is still mertits a place in the cultural history of the Hollywood cinema.

Among other things, it announced the arrival of a new directing talent, Singleton, then only 23, and put on the map a whole groups of talented black actors: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and especially laurence Fisburne, who, up until then, was known as the Cowboy Curtis in “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

The 20-year-anniversary includes commentary by Singleton, a docu about the making of the picture, an interesting piece about the legacy of the film, and some recycled featurettes from previous DVD versions.

Original Review

John Singleton was the first director to successfully translate the swing and heat of hip hop culture into cinematic language. His movies are studio-financed, but he is responsible for making the quintessential “Boyz N’ Hood,” which launched a whole cycle of 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, “Boyz N’ the Hood” deals with  the impact of amily disintegration and gang wars on youths growing up in South Central.  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 Styles (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 uses his power and authority to steer him away from the lethal, life-threatening gang activities.

Furious preaches to his son black earnest, pride sermons about discipline, decency, and dignity.  At one point, he sums up the film’s message, claiming: “Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”

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 Critic Armond White has noted that the father’s name, Furious Styles, suggests what drives Singleton’s art: a sense of commitment and interest in technical display.

Singleton turns a typical coming-of-age drama into a powerful chronicle of the contemporary social pressures affecting black males. Drawing a contrast between Boyz N’ the Hood and 1980s Brat Pack youth films, the critic White has observed that black teens see life in terms of survival, whereas white kids perceive life in terms of fun. As was shown, introducing fun into black films was the novel point of the House Party films.