Boyz N The Hood was the debut film by writer/director John Singleton. The semi-autobiographical tale revolves around three young black men, Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, and their daily lives growing up in South Central Los Angeles.
On to the tale of the tape…
Relevance: While the phrase ‘black film’ can take on many different meanings (as this countdown hopefully illustrates), Boyz N The Hood is the type of film that is universally agreed to represent the ultimate prototype. Black director, black writer, black cast, black soundtrack, black setting, black story. Spike had already proven there was a modern audience for black film; in mimicking the rise of West Coast hip hop, John opened America’s eyes to a very real ‘street’ sensibility that was getting louder and prouder.
Legacy: So many careers and trends can be traced to this film. John Singleton obviously, but also Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Cuba Gooding Jr. started their rise with this film. The good and bad ‘hood’ films (Menace II Society, and countless others) wouldn’t have gotten made without Boyz. While Spike was the clear pioneer, John’s success told both Hollywood and future filmmakers that there was room for more than one black storyteller at a time. That might be the greatest legacy.
Craft: Rewatching it years later, there are points where the film is undeniably ‘preachy’. (And the Wayans absolutely slaughtered this point to death in their parody, Don’t Be a Menace). That aside, the film’s structure is fairly classical. Three brothers, one undeniably good (Tre), one undeniably bad (Doughboy), and one good who has some ties to the bad (Ricky). The presence of the father figure (Furious) is somewhat on the nose, but no one can take away from the great performance of Laurence Fishburne.
Crossover: Without a doubt. Boyz N The Hood was on its own regard a crossover phenomenon. John Singleton became the first African-American, and the youngest person of any color to be nominated for Best Director. As referenced in the Legacy section, Ice Cube has gone from Doughboy to the star of Are We There Yet? Anyone who saw that coming is a bold faced liar.
Apollo: Ricky’s slow motion demise is still incredibly powerful. If I may, I’d like to use this space for something more personal. I was still a kid when this film came out. Spike’s films had already planted the seed in my head, and I heard about all this new black kid out of USC doing it, so of course I wanted to see the film. Now I might be slightly off with this number, but the number of times I personally remember my father going out to the movie theater has to be around…5? He has movies he likes now, but they’re not his thing, they’re my thing. So there we were one Saturday afternoon (in Oak Park Mall for you Kansas City people) watching Boyz. My Pops taking me to something I was interested in wasn’t a big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always known. So when Furious made his speech to Tre about listening to him (and watching what happens to Ricky and Doughboy who didn’t have that male influence), it was just part of the movie to me.
Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the table, I have so much appreciation for what I had. Obviously having a man in the house doesn’t mean automatically mean a boy grows up into a good brotha, not having a man doesn’t mean a boy won’t turn out well. But it’s a conversation I’ve had over and over again with some of my closest friends: having a good man involved in the life of a boy can go a long, long way in creating a good man. (I’m deliberately avoiding the father-daughter influence; go listen to some old John Mayer for that.) As a wrap I’ll say for its various flaws, Boyz N The Hood is one of the better, three-dimensional black films ever made.
The countdown will continue with another landmark film. Until next time…