Every neighborhood has a story to tell and the people who live in these areas of town have their own accounts on what they see every day. In these final days for Black History Month, I’ll be taking a look at two distinct films that focus on the communities that live in the so called “hood” part of town. Boyz n the Hood is the debut film from the late John Singelton, who sadly passed away in 2019, and his first film gives the audience a realistic and harrowing tale of a group of young black boys who grow up in the South-Central Area of Los Angeles. Not only is this film a brutal and honest look at what life can be like for these kids, but it’s also a personal tale of the experiences and people that Singleton knew from which he drew inspiration to make this movie.
We begin in 1984 where a young Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II) gets into a physical altercation at his school which leads to his suspension. Reading from a paper he wrote a time ago, Tre’s mother Reva (Angela Bassett) reveals that if Tre got into trouble at school, he would go to live with his father over in Crenshaw. His father “Furious” (Laurence Fishburne) is a no-nonsense man who has seen some things in his lifetime and became a father before he was even twenty. When Tre moves in with his father in the Crenshaw neighborhood, he instills rules and teaches him life lessons in order to guide Tre out of the life of crime and instead seek positive influences that will help him later in life.
Across the street are two of Tre friends, Doughboy (Baha Jackson) and Ricky (Donovan McCrary) who are half-brothers to a mother (played in a truly astonishing performance by Tyra Ferrell) who is quite selective on which child she loves more. Ricky is treated like her little angel while Doughboy is more or less like a thorn in her side. She’s loving and nurturing to Ricky while scolding and abusive to Doughboy. If you pay attention closely, you’ll see how different the parenting styles are of these characters that we follow.
These kids grow up together and walks the streets of their neighborhood. They talk about random things in their lives, girls, throw a football to each other and even talk about how much money they can make when engaging in activities that are illegal. In one pivotal moment, the boys walk along some train tracks to find a dead body that they heard about. An obvious reference to Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age film Stand By Me, a film in which writer and director John Singleton drew inspiration.
In many respects, Boyz n the Hood is a different version of Rob Reiner’s film and the very same. Both discuss the lives of young boys who turn into grown men and what became of them later in life. Both poignant films, although Boyz n the Hood tells a story that isn’t talked about enough, especially in 1991, when the film was released.
The film fast-forwards to seven years later where the boys are now essentially adults. High School is over and now the future is all they have. The decisions they make now can and will affect them for years to come. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has a good head on his shoulders and is eager to score with his girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) for the first time, although she’d rather wait until marriage. Doughboy is running with the Crips, a notorious gang and Ricky is an all-star athlete who is looking to get a college scholarship so he can play football. From what we know of these three boys, each path they choose to make will be vastly different from each other.
Tre’s father still educates his son on what is right and wrong with the world. Take for example, one of the best scenes in the movie, where Furious explains what gentrification means for the black communities. Upon watching this scene, it did remind me that I often do see numerous liquor and gun stores in primarily black neighborhoods and seldom see them in white neighborhoods. His explanation here is wise, smart and something that these young men need to hear even if they don’t exactly understand it at this point in their lives.
Since, becoming adults, the violence is seen more frequently and the police don’t offer much hope. There’s one scene in particular where Tre is accosted by a black police officer and even goes so far as to threaten this young man. You would think that the police are there to “protect and serve” as it says so on the side of their cruiser, but instead the cops are there to intimidate and sometimes don’t even bother investigating crimes as they occur. I love how John Singleton shows us how black on black violence is commonplace in this particular neighborhood. It appears that no matter what these young men do, the law is against them and no one is looking out for their best interest. There’s also a critical moment where a red car drives past Ricky and Doughboy’s home in order to stake their claim of being the tough guys who you don’t cross paths.
This is where I’ll end on the story itself. What transpires culminates into a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. As we follow the stories and paths of these characters, we are always wondering what will happen to them; or more importantly, what if things were different? What if Ricky and Doughboy had a loving and nurturing mother? What if the boys who grew up in this neighborhood has more positive influences? What if the city gave a damn about dealing the drug trade so that people won’t fall under its spell?
Singleton does incredible work here in leading the audience down a road that shows us the reality of life in this so called “hood” and the consequences of how parenting greatly affects the outcome of a child. It’s a powerful film and one that is impossible to forget once you see it. The script is incredible and wholesomely original. The cinematography is elegant and memorable. Spike Lee may have introduced the world of the black community and his films gave Singleton the blueprint to make Boyz n the Hood.
Boyz n the Hood introduced several actors to the world, some of which were largely unknown. Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr. And Nia Long are among several actors who became instantly recognized after this film’s debut. Not to mention, the title alone is a reference to the song with the same title sung by the N.W.A. which was written by Ice Cube himself. Watching the film does remind me of some friends that I grew up with as a child and later in the movie Straight Outta Compton. The N.W.A. is a band that I’m a fan of. Not only is their music good but it’s the lyrics that speak volume and make them the icons that they are.
For John Singleton, he was the youngest person to ever be nominated for Best Director for his work on Boyz n the Hood; being just twenty-four years old at the time, a record that he still holds. This movie was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Sadly, this movie won no awards at the 64th Academy Awards. Jonathan Demme won Best Director for The Silence of the Lambs while Thelma and Louise garnered the Best Original Screenplay- a sharp contrast to what John Singleton brought to the screen. Personally, I think he film is far better than the winners and at the very least should’ve been nominated for Best Picture, which it wasn’t.
Even still, Boyz n the Hood made Singleton a household name and with his impressive filmography including Poetic Justice and Baby Boy. He never did rightfully get the credit he deserved. Thirty years later, Boyz n the Hood is an amazing tale of young black men stuck in the ways of life in the hood and we can only hope that the decisions they make are the ones that can ensure they live happy and healthy lives.
It may not have gotten the awards it rightfully deserved but the impact this film had is undeniable. It brought the black community to the forefront and talked about issues that people would rather sweep under the carpet. The drug trafficking into their neighborhoods, the different parenting styles and their impact on the children and the lasting effects on how one fateful decision can dramatically change your life. With racial tension still being a problem in this country let us follow the most important message that Singleton left us at the end of the movie… Increase the Peace. That’s a message that can provide a better future for today, tomorrow and the lives of future generations.
Join us for part 2 of “life in the hood” where I’ll be covering Menace II Society.