#577) Boyz n the Hood (1991)

#577) Boyz n the Hood (1991)

OR “Shades of Tre”

Directed & Written by John Singleton

Class of 2002

The Plot: In 1984, young Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II) is sent by his mother Reva (Angela Bassett) to live with his father Furious (Laurence Fishburne) in South Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District. Seven years later, a grown-up Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a responsible young man with college aspirations. His friend Doughboy (Ice Cube) has joined the Crips gang and has been in and out of jail, while Doughboy’s older brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut) is a promising athlete hoping to get a football scholarship. All three young men face the day-to-day struggles of living in a neighborhood largely run by gangs, and witness the dangers of being Black in a White system. Despite the film’s violence, “Boyz” asks its audience to “Increase the Peace”.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “thought-provoking” and praises the “strong supporting performances” from the cast. The write-up also cribs from Roger Ebert’s review, calling the film “an American film of enormous importance.”

But Does It Really?: As a White male, I am vastly under qualified to meet this movie at the complex level it deserves to be seen at, but from my vantage point we still have one outstanding movie. In the hands of lesser talent, the film’s plea for peace would come across as maudlin, but thanks to John Singleton’s vision, “Boyz” is a realistic, sincere movie with a strong message. The best movies show us (and help us to empathize with) a viewpoint other than our own, and “Boyz” is the epitome of that moviegoing experience for me. With a confident Singleton at the helm and a cast of newcomers that can’t be beat, “Boyz n the Hood” is a natural choice for the NFR.

Everybody Gets One: Born and raised in South Central LA, John Singleton was inspired to become a filmmaker after seeing “Star Wars” as a kid. After graduating from USC, Singleton interned at Columbia, and pitched his semi-autobiographical screenplay “Boyz n the Hood”. Columbia was interested in the script (they wanted their own “Do the Right Thing“-style hit), and offered Singleton $100,000 if he sold the script and “walked away”. Singleton declined the offer, determined to make his directorial debut with his own script, and Columbia eventually acquiesced. “Boyz” is also the sole NFR appearance for most of the cast, including Ice Cube, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Regina King.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Boyz n the Hood” was a hit upon release, and John Singleton received both of the film’s Oscar nominations: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Although he lost both to, respectively, “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Thelma & Louise“, Singleton became the first African-American nominated for Best Director, as well as the category’s youngest nominee (24!).

Other notes 

  • This film sets itself up perfectly in the first few moments. Following on-screen text about one out of every 21 African-American males being murdered, there is a scene of children walking to school and talking about last night’s shooting. You know exactly what kind of ride you are in for.
  • My main takeaway from this film is that Angela Bassett had her screen persona down pat from the very beginning. Reva Devereaux is the first in a long line of strong, no-nonsense women that make up Bassett’s filmography.
  • Laurence Fishburne is a fountain of knowledge in this movie. Fun Fact: Among John Singleton’s early jobs in Hollywood was as a P.A. and security guard at “Pee-wee’s Playhouse”, hence how Fishburne learned about the movie.
  • During the 1984 prelude, I was all set to make a bunch of “Stand By Me” jokes. Turns out “Stand by Me” was one of Singleton’s influences while writing this screenplay, which explains why these kids walk along the railroad tracks and go see a dead body.
  • Furious briefly mentions his time serving in Vietnam. His main piece of advice: “Never get out of the boat.” Absolutely goddamn right.
  • This is the film debut for Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Regina King! Shoutout to Singleton and casting director Jaki Brown for discovering pretty much every breakout African-American star of the 1990s.
  • “Domino, motherfuckers.”
  • In addition to acting, Ice Cube performs a few songs on the film’s soundtrack. Some of these songs are featured in the film diegetically, which begs the question: Does Ice Cube exist in the same universe as Doughboy?
  • I love when movie characters say what decade it is. “Rick, it’s the Nineties. Can’t afford to be afraid of our own people anymore, man.”
  • Furious’ speech about gentrification in Compton is a powerful moment. Among the crowd that gathers while Furious is talking is Whitman Mayo, aka Grady from “Sanford and Son”.
  • One noticeable detail: the constant sound of police helicopters in the background. You are always aware of how dangerous living in South Central is.
  • “Boyz” brings up many important social issues, including police brutality, Black on Black violence, gang warfare, and systemic racism. My question: has anything actually changed in 30 years? “Boyz” feels like it could have been made yesterday, and that’s not necessarily a compliment.
  • It’s so easy to remember Cuba Gooding Jr. just for “Show me the money!“, but “Boyz” reminds you what a great actor he is. Tre’s breakdown after his confrontation with the Bloods and the police is a masterful performance from Gooding.
  • Look closely: John Singleton has a brief walk-on as the mailman that delivers Ricky’s SAT score.
  • Oh man, the last 20 minutes of this movie are brutal. It’s a draining viewing experience, but an important one for people like me that have never experienced the “eye for an eye” mentality of gang violence. In a movie filled with great lines, Doughboy delivers the final impactful message: “Either [the media] don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
  • Among the many people and organizations thanked in the credits is the Nation of Islam, whose disciplinary wing the Fruit of Islam helped provide security for the movie during its on-location filming in South Central.

Legacy 

  • “Boyz n the Hood” was released in the summer of 1991 amidst critical praise and good box office, but not without its controversy. Before its release, the Coalition Against Media Racism in America called for a boycott of this and similar films that the organization feared were “launching the second era of Blaxploitation”. Unfortunately, at least nine gang-related shootings were reported near or at theaters playing “Boyz” in its first month of release, with three killed and thirty-five wounded. Theaters threatened to pull the film, which Singleton called “an act of ‘artistic racism'” adding, “I didn’t create the conditions under which people shoot each other”.
  • John Singleton’s next film was 1993’s “Poetic Justice” with Janet Jackson. Although his filmography doesn’t have another film as well received as “Boyz”, Singleton directed a variety of film, television, and music videos throughout his career. Sadly, John Singleton died in 2019 at age 51 following complications from a stroke.
  • “Boyz n the Hood” still gets referenced quite a bit, though mainly for its title. “Boyz” was also the catalyst for other “hood films” of the era, such as “Menace II Society” and “South Central”, all of which are parodied in the Wayans Brothers’ “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood”.
  • And of course, everyone in this movie got a major career boost. Bassett and Fishburne are household names, as are Oscar winners Gooding and King. Even Ice Cube became a movie star (and producer/screenwriter)!

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