The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Boyz n the Hood 
Director: John Singleton
Writer: John Singleton
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube
Running Time: 112 minutes
Boyz n the Hood opens with a tragic statistic:
“One out of every twenty-one Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male.”
This statement proves to be ominous in John Singleton’s 1991 Oscar-nominated film, his very first as a director.
Set in the South Central LA neighborhood of Crenshaw, the film paints a vivid and very blunt portrait of inner city life. Drug abuse and violence are rampant, father figures are nowhere to be seen, and most disputes are solved with guns, not fists. This is the kind of place where you could walk to the corner store and not make it back alive.
Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) has spent most of his life growing up in such a place, and he is one of the select few who have been able to avoid most of the issues that have plagued so many others in the area. This can mostly be attributed to the presence of his father, Furious (a then “Larry” Fishburne), a strict parent who is also a positive role model. Furious is always there for his son, continually preaching good behavior with a strong sense of awareness.
On the flip side, Tre’s best friends from childhood, “Doughboy” (Ice Cube, in his first acting role) and his half-brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), have been raised by a single mother. There is clear bias in their household. Ricky is the mother’s favorite, and she puts all of her energy into helping him get to college, babying him in the process. Doughboy, on the other hand, is a nice guy, but he’s also a high school dropout who would rather sit on his porch getting high and drinking 40s. He also doesn’t have the football skills of his brother to fall back on.
Also on the block are plenty of gangbangers and crackheads. At one point, while walking home Tre notices a toddler alone in the street. He angrily brings the baby to his mother, telling her to “keep the babies off the streets!” This doesn’t deter her from offering Tre sexual favors for crack.
That’s life in this ‘hood, and these encounters are based on John Singleton’s own life experiences. Just 23 years old at the time, Singleton wrote and directed this film about people not unlike those he grew up with.
As a director, he has a few missteps. Subtlety is not his strongest suit, and the film really hammers home its anti-violence message in the most straightforward way possible. There are also some bizarre tonal shifts in terms of music. The film’s score, especially near the beginning, is basically smooth jazz, and it feels really out of place given the subject matter. This is particularly noticeable when, in the very next scene, classic funk like Zapp & Roger’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” plays in the background.
But these issues aren’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things because Boyz n the Hood is very, very effective in delivering its message. Inner city violence is still a major problem today, and unfortunately, not much has changed.
As a Chicago resident (the so-called “murder capital of the U.S.”), I hear about shootings every single day. This past Fourth of July weekend, for example, ended with over 80 people shot in the city, several of whom died. Much of this violence is happening in poor, impoverished areas that are riddled with gang warfare. At what point is this cycle of barbarity going to end? Sadly, people now more than ever need to take Singleton’s message to heart:
“Increase the Peace.”