In memoriam: John Singleton’s legacy lives on through Boyz N The Hood

The 51-year-old writer/director was taken off life support nearly two weeks after suffering a stroke

John Singleton, the director behind Boyz N The Hood, Poetic Justice and 2 Fast 2 Furious, died on Monday, April 29.

“John passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends,” his family said in  statement sent to U.S. media outlets. The news came hours after the filmmaker’s family said they had made the difficult decision to take the 51-year-old off life support more than two weeks after he suffered a stroke and was put into a medically induced coma.

The director had “quietly struggled with hypertension,” the family said.

As news of the director’s imminent passing spread, filmmakers and actors including Jordan Peele, Regina King and Spike Lee took to Twitter and Instagram to post remembrances.

Singleton’s nearly three-decade career saw him push Black cinema into the Hollywood mainstream with his landmark 1991 film Boyz N The Hood, 1993’s Poetic Justice and 1995’s Higher Learning. He also directed a film in the Fast And The Furious action franchise, rebooted Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson and helped kickstart the film careers of Ice Cube, Tyrese Gibson, Taraji P. Henson and recent Oscar winner Regina King.

In the mid-2000s, Singleton transitioned into directing episodic television shows Empire and Billions. Three years ago, he reunited with his Boyz N The Hood star Cuba Gooding Jr. on American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, directing the Race Card episode for which he earned an Emmy nomination. His most recent TV project is Snowfall, a series on the crack epidemic in Los Angeles.

Singleton remains the youngest person ever nominated for a directing Oscar. He was 22 when he made the now-classic Boyz N The Hood and 24 when he was nominated in 1992. He was also first Black person to receive a directing nod and remained the only one for 18 years.

Boyz N The Hood not only casts a large shadow over Singleton’s career but Black cinema as a whole. The film stars Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut and Ice Cube as childhood friends in South Central, attending barbecues and rolling on Crenshaw Boulevard while navigating the constant threats to Black lives, whether from police or territorial gangs.

Arriving in the era of New Jack Cinema, Boyz N The Hood was far more soulful, insightful and melancholic than many of its peers.

While films like New Jack City and Menace II Society emphasized violent thrills, Boyz N The Hood spent much more time pondering the systemic causes fuelling the crack epidemic and related gang violence that exploded in South Central during the 80s and 90s.

Think about all those scenes where Laurence Fishburne’s Furious Styles preaches about gentrification. And consider Ice Cube’s mournful performance, which helped the rapper transition from controversial music star – his group NWA’s debut single inspired Boyz N The Hood’s title – to bankable Hollywood player.

At its core, the movie is about two guys aspiring to go to college and get away from the hood. And you could see how Boyz N The Hood would provide a similar way out of circumstance for Singleton, who started working on the film fresh from the University of Southern California.

Boyz N The Hood’s story was inspired by both West Coast rap and Singleton’s own life. Details from his youth – such as growing up between two single parents – worked their way into the script, which Singleton stubbornly insisted on directing. He walked away from a $100,000 studio offer to purchase the script without him attached. They wanted a more experienced director, but Boyz N The Hood was in Singleton’s DNA. The director ultimately landed a three-picture deal and a US$6.5-million budget to make it.

Today, the film – and Singleton’s legacy – is preserved at the National Film Registry for its cultural, historical and historical relevance.


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