Boyz N The Hood: Social Problems Experienced In The Ghettos Of Los Angeles
In 1991, a young John Singleton, fresh out of college, wrote and directed his debut movie Boyz N the Hood, a drama/crime film that completely changed the course of his career (Kashner). Having a director who is also the scriptwriter gives a movie a more consistent vision (Barsam and Monahan 135). The movie stars Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and Regina King among other notable names in the Hollywood industry. It was also Ice Cube’s and Chestnut’s debut movie in the entertainment industry. They have since grown to cast in many other notable films. It is a 112-minute film, produced by Steve Nicolaides and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Charles Mill was behind its cinematography, and the film’s music was done by Stanley Clarke. It was filmed in South Central Los Angeles, which is John Singleton’s home district (Kashner). The movie got nominations for the Best Director and the Best Original Screenplay categories at the 64th Academy Awards, hence Singleton became the youngest movie director ever nominated for these awards (Kashner). The US Library of Congress selected the film and preserved it in the National Film Registry, deeming it significant in culture, history and aesthetics (Kashner).
John Singleton uses the story of three boys who grow up together in the hood to portray the social problems experienced in the ghettos of Los Angeles. Ricky and Doughboy are half-brothers, and they approach their life struggles with different approaches. While Ricky looks to win a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, Doughboy gets influenced by his surroundings and succumbs to the common vices such as violence, drugs and crime, whilst still maintaining his sense of pride and honor. The two have a friend called Tre Styles, whose father Furious Styles teaches him to be responsible and do the right things. Tre does his best to impress his father and live up to his expectations. The three boys are each in an environment where they cannot avoid violence, regardless of their life ambitions and their decisions. At the age of 17, Tre looks forward to joining the university, Ricky is a sportsperson expecting to make it to the university through a football scholarship and Doughboy is into crime, having been arrested severally. In such an environment, it is almost difficult to stay clear of violence and guns.
Tre Styles’ father, Furious Styles understands the neighborhood better, having been raised in it. He knows that there are two different possible outcomes for people inhabiting the place: the teenagers could embrace violence and use it to defend their beliefs and territory, or as a real estate market under transition, and possibly investors could buy property cheaply and make away with large chunks of money. Furious Styles is a strict disciplinarian who lays down the rules and guidelines that would ensure Tre does not get influenced into the vices practiced in the neighborhood, but instead concentrates on his education so that he secures a bright future. However, Furious Styles is not everywhere to monitor his son. The son gets involves in some brawls and tussles, and at some time even with the police. After Ricky’s death, we see Tre determined to get revenge on the murderous gang.
Through the movie, the audience gets attached to the three boys and their lifestyles (Kashner). Furious is a mortgage broker, and believes that getting educated is the best way to get ahead in the hood and stay out of trouble. As a responsible man, he ensures his son gets the best guidance in every situation he gets to encounter in life. He wants his son to always make informed decisions, and to think out of every situation. Furious Styles gets Ricky and Tre to a signboard advertising for the people to sell out their property to a certain company. Using that, Furious speaks to Tre and Ricky, advising them to always stay clear of trouble, since the system seems to be biased against them. The two boys acknowledge his guidance, and even wish Doughboy was there to get the piece of wisdom they had received.
Ricky and Tre seem to have made up their minds to avoid violence and trouble at all costs, but not long after, they get involved in a tussle with a certain gang, who have a gun in their car. The gang shoots in the air, scaring away everyone. Later on, the same gang shoots and kills Ricky as he was leaving the store with Tre. Doughboy decides to avenge his brother’s death by killing the three boys responsible for Ricky’s death. Tre was initially to join Doughboy, but his father talks him out of it. The characters of Ricky and Tre in this case speak out for the many innocent kids who have become victims of violence and death in the hoods. It also shows how an innocent boy could get forced into violence to avenge for a friend with whom they once shared a dream which was cut short prematurely.
John Singleton has also produced the movies Four Brothers, Poetic Justice, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Shaft, Rosewood, Baby Boy among other movies after Boyz N the Hood. Most of his movies are always drama/thrillers, and some are action/drama. After this film, his next three films did not meet the standards he had set with his debut movie. Poetic Justice, Higher Learning and Rosewood suffer from poor direction and lack of narrative energy. In Higher Learning, Singleton’s characters are neither plausible nor attractive. In Rosewood, Singleton secures a great screenwriter and cast, but the movie depicts too many main characters and has a lot of energy directed in creating the movie’s central actions. Despite being a better film than its two predecessors, Rosewood shows Singleton was not yet fully developed from the young man he was at his first movie, Boyz N the Hood (Kashner).
Most of John Singleton’s films have always depicted the neighbourhood he grew up in (Kashner). The neighbourhood was a black community, with numerous cases of deaths and violence on a regular basis. The people there generally had a lower life expectancy, owing to the kind of conditions they were based. His debut movie introduced the black gangster genre, and this has mainly been his style. He majorly brings out the fear of death the people in his hometown in South Central Los Angeles District through the movie (Kashner). The themes of racism, family, tragedy and life choices are also brought out in the film. His films often hit the audience with these themes in a manner that provokes reactions from them. To date, only a few of his movies lack his major themes surrounding the black neighbourhoods. To bring out these themes, Singleton employs the use of colors, great camera positioning and juxtaposition (Kashner).
Most of his movies show the struggles one faces growing up in a set up like that he grew up in. The movies introduce the audience to the difficult choices one would have to make in the black neighbourhood environment (Kashner). Through his scripts, a lot has been brought to light on the lives of typical kids growing up and adjusting to their environment, and at the same time doing their best to survive. Singleton shows how it is quite difficult to grow up in these hoods and attain quality education. It is one’s responsibility to oversee that the general casting and production of the movie happens in line with what was intended to be relayed to the general audience (Barsam and Monahan 5). Singleton has always been responsible for contacting the major casts and producers for his movies, as he himself understands better who would best relay a certain message that he intends to pass forth.
His Boyz N the Hood movie was produced at a time when there was so much violence associated with the black neighbourhoods, and the movie mirrored this lifestyle, depicting violence and gang life. The movie in a certain way seems to mirror his own childhood and growth. He grew up in a violent environment where it would have been almost impossible for one to avoid the gangs, crime, violence and drugs. His representation in the movie could be the character of Tre. Like Tre, Singleton could also have seen his closest friends get into the vices he brings forth in the movie. It is possible that some of his friends or family were also murdered innocently or due to minor confrontations. In such a setting, it is easy for one to get lured away, but like Tre, he pursued his dreams of getting to college and making it in life.
Singleton has had his screenplay well built. The order used in the movie’s plot development is a chronological one, and the film does not rely much on flashbacks to explain the events (Kashner). It is easier to understand the different characters and their motivations for the things they do. We see all the characters being excellently executed, and the messages get clearly passed on. Tyra Ferrell plays the role of Rick’s and Doughboy’s mother excellently (Kashner). She even has plastic wrappings on the cushions of her couch to prevent them from getting messed up. This is an individual touch of brilliance that brings along a tragic significance in the movie. Singleton has brought out the three boys as average American teens who are just victims of their surroundings, and not inner-city misfits who look forward to crime and violence. At some point, to the end of the movie, we see Doughboy walking across the street to warn Tre of what could happen, with the intention of having Tre escape the trap so as to secure his bright future.
In cinematography, Charles Mills uses the best angles and transitions to bring out the different scenes and thus help create the general movie plot. The fade-out/fade-in transition is used mainly to move from a scene to the next, as well as to show a lapse in time between two major events (Barsam and Monahan 6). In this movie, it has been used in most occasions and was very necessary in relaying the 7-year transition from Doughboy’s arrest as a kid to his homecoming party. Different camera angles have also been used effectively to give the audience a better observation and understanding of the film in all possible dimensions, as well as reduce the possible boredom and monotony that would arise from a single shot (Giannetti 90). Cutting on action can also be seen on the movie. The camera has also been used to clearly bring forth the content and form in each scene of the movie, with each shot capturing the desired aspect of color and objects to speak for the situation. Form is the cinematic language in movies (Barsam and Monahan 36)
The movie’s casting director was Jaki Brown. The characters in the movie were well developed, each bringing out the message. Tre’s character was played by Cuba Gooding Jr., while Ice Cube played Doughboy. Laurence Fishburne acted as Furious Styles, and Morris Chestnut played Ricky’s role. Most of the cast in the movie had grown up in similar conditions as portrayed in the movie, and Ice Cube recalls that he could have played any of the three boys in the film, since he could relate to all of them. Nia Long played Tre’s girlfriend, Brandi. Nia had also grown up in Couth-Central Los Angeles, and she understood what it felt to bring to light the things that she had witnessed and experienced in her life.
Tyra Ferrell was Mrs Baker in the movie (Kashner). She brought out the typical character of a black mother, who would have wanted to do everything she could to see her children prosper. She warns Doughboy to make major life changes before things get out of hand. Through her character, the audience observes how hard it is to be a single mother in such a neighbourhood. She also shows us the grief that most of the women encounter whenever their loved ones get killed, especially when it is one who was deemed to emerge successful in future. All the characters and situations in this movie serve specific roles and purposes aimed at pushing forth the general movie plot (Barsam and Monahan 56). Singleton’s crew just serves that right (Kashner).
Singleton’s movie is one of realism. Such movies fit in our real experiences and expectations (Barsam and Monahan 57). He portrays the local neighbourhood residents typically as one would encounter them in the outskirts of towns. The people are also self-contained, pushing for the underlying notion of the need for them to be responsible and find their own solutions. When Furious Styles speaks to some of them on the possibility of having their property sold away cheaply to certain people who would, later on, make huge profits from that, it is revealed that some of these people are still confident that they could protect themselves with guns, like they had always done. The people of the hood are also brought out as less educated, given that most of their attention has been drawn away to violence and guns. They try to make it in life by robbing and stealing from others.
The music in the movie is majorly hip-hop music. The music used in the film is representative of the black culture, and the music is used perfectly in different scenes to set the moods for the actions that surround it. Hip-hop music has a cultural significance with the black neighbourhoods and the ghetto settings, and in this case, it helps to create the setting for the storyline. At the end of the movie, Ice Cube’s song South Central is played, giving the audience a general feeling of the violence and crime experienced in South Central Los Angeles (Kashner). Most of the songs used in the movie depict the violence and rough lifestyles the people living in this setting are accustomed to, and also bring out their beliefs and ambitions that they would overcome their problems. The songs and instrumentals used in movies are often in line with the general themes being brought forth in these movies, and they thus help pass the general message to the audience (Buhler and Neumeyer 170)
When Furious Styles and the young Tre get back from fishing, the song “Someday” is used, and Furious expresses his love for the song. In this case, it helps bring out the ambitions of Furious Styles that his son Tre Styles would one day make it, and they would both have a good life. The song plays on to when the young Doughboy gets arrested, and here it is used to create the mood of sympathy around him. The song talks about a time in future when things would get alright, and we all hope that it would come to be so for Doughboy and Chris, who just got arrested. The people in the hood live by the belief that sometimes their troubles will be over. Generally, the songs and musical instrumentals in this film have been used to help create the moods for different scenes, and to help the audience understand more what surrounds the event (Buhler and Neumeyer 170).
John Singleton brings out two primary attributes in Boyz N the Hood: Subject and style. His subjects on the violence and deaths in the black neighbourhoods is brought out in a style typical of most of his movies. The movie enjoys a great cast who give their best natural performances and his camera captures all the necessary details in such confidence that makes the movie as relevant as it is to date. Singleton’s style mainly involves creating scenes that are inspired by the day-to-day lifestyle that he or other people around him have experienced. His subjects in this film and most of his other films surround the issues of racism, violence, crime and deaths experienced in the black community neighbourhoods. To bring out this message, he does not disappoint with this movie.
The black neighbourhood communities have mainly been portrayed as violent neighbourhoods where crime and crime-related deaths are almost daily routines. Through this movie, Singleton tries to point out what would be the cause of such problems. Furious Styles explains to the other locals that it is not in their nature to be violent or to deal with drugs, as the media houses seem to portray them. Most of these guns and drugs, he argues, are brought in by other people, not related to them, but who would want to paint their community as one that loves drugs and violence. He argues that most of these evil things had been made readily available to them mainly to help them finish each other. He points out that at the end, it was their property that would be at risk of getting into the wrong hands, who would want to make big profits from them. Cultural invisibility has been key in the film’s success.
Singleton’s subject is also about the relationship between the black community and each other (Kashner). He notes that most of the deaths in the hood would come from fellow black people. Because of this, we see that the black community in these neighbourhoods made little progress, since not many of the kids would go to school and make it (Kashner). The environment that one grows in affects how he/she performs in school or even succeeds thereafter (Giannetti 43). Ricky is an innocent boy who is poised to join college. Despite the fact that he had not been personally involved in any crime and violence, his dreams get cut short when he gets short dead (Kashner). Singleton uses this emotional scene to show that achieving one’s goals is not necessarily based on your ambitions and efforts, but is also based on the environment you get to grow in.
The movie was generally great, and had almost all the elements of a film taken into consideration. The cast had no problem bringing out the characters they were tasked to play, and the filmmaker’s overall plans of transferring his written script into a great movie that would speak out the plight of the African-American youths in their hoods was generally a success. This was among the first-ever films to bring to light the struggles the African-Americans encounter daily in the hoods. The film has been successful in bringing out the source of the problem in such ghettos. The movie shows that despite having many bright and talented kids in the hood, they can barely achieve anything if the neighbourhood always experiences violence and crime. The movie has been criticized for some things, despite its success. The movie is believed to hold a traditional conservative worldview, judging from Furious Styles several monologues, including his belief that the army was not suitable for a black man. However, it’s a great film that was well choreographed and that has had a great impact in enlightening the general public on the typical lives of teenagers in the black neighbourhood ghettos.
- Barsam, Richard and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.
- Buhler, James and David Neumeyer. Hearing the movies: music and sound in film history. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Print.
- Giannetti, Louis D. Understanding movies. Boston: Pearson, 2018. Print.
- Kashner, Sam. How Boyz n the Hood Beat the Odds to Get Made- and Why It Matters Today. 4 August 2016. Website. 24 April 2019. .