The Labeling And Misrepresentation Of The Characters In Boyz In The Hood

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Throughout the 1992 film, “Boyz in the Hood,” (Singleton, 1991) John Singleton takes a closer look at urban black America in South Central, Los Angeles. Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy are the main characters in this film that grow up together in their neighborhood or as they called it ‘the hood’. All three characters struggle with different internal issues which helps them grow as young men. First, there’s Tre, a good student who has dreams of furthering his education by going to college. With guidance from his father, Furious Styles, Tre learns responsibility and character. Then, Ricky, an outstanding athlete who is trying to earn a football scholarship to USC, feels that sports is his only outlet to greatness. Ricky’s brother Doughboy is an all-around gangster that associates himself with violence, alcohol, and crime. Doughboy, which means drug dealer, on the contrary maintains a strong sense of pride. Doughboy, Ricky and Trey, along with their parents are chronicled from childhood to adulthood. These characters were raised in a very deviant community, however, there were many causes as to why they did not all become deviant. Throughout the movie, these characters had many chances to engage in deviant behavior, as some did while others did not. Their behavior and personality was determined by many factors and theories which sociologist study. These theories consist of social control or the conflict theory, the effects of capitalism, and labeling theory. This movie also shows why the class is not determined by race. As this deviant society is exposed to these theories, a normal society can better understand why this deviance is created.

In the movie Boyz n the Hood (Singleton, 1991), director and writer John Singleton depicts such social deviance that plagues Doughboy and his friends, it can be explained using a framework of deviance called Conflict Theory. Conflict Theory in terms of deviance explains that engaging in deviant behavior is an attempt to combat unequal access to social and economic resources and opportunities enjoyed by those in power who have social control. Deviant behavior is the result of social conditions. Though the story is entirely fictional, the living conditions of South Central L.A. shown in the movie is extremely factual. South Central L.A. is notorious for its urban decay and street crime. South Central is considered to be the center of gang violence and poverty in the city of Los Angeles, as it is the birthplace of many famous gangs such as the “Bloods” and the “Crips”. As well as an area with low-income minorities. Tre’s father exemplifies this in the movie by telling him,“ If you want to talk about guns…why is it that there’s a gun shop on every corner here? – Why? – I’ll tell you why. Just like there’s a liquor store on every corner here? why? I’ll tell you why. Just like there’s a liquor store on every corner here?

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– Why? – I’ll tell you why. Just like there’s a liquor store on every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills, you don’t see that shit. They want us to kill ourselves. The best way to destroy a people is to take away their ability to reproduce” (Singleton, 1991). Dalton Conley In You May Ask Yourself, describes the social control theory as a concept that refers to the ways in which people’s thoughts, feelings, appearance, and behavior are regulated in social systems. Tre’s father shows how people who have social control in these systems find ways to maintain and increase their power.

Already troubled with the sounds of guns riddling the neighborhoods of Crenshaw and the bright lights from the helicopters patrolling at night, many African Americans find it extremely difficult to escape such grim conditions in a society based on capitalism. Those in power in a capitalist society, increase such conditions to ensure that the wealthy remain in power. Capitalist societies are dependent on “competitive forms of social and economic interaction and upon substantial inequalities in the allocation of social resources” (Conley 246).

Because of the inequalities working against African Americans in a capitalist society, economic security is not guaranteed. Often many African Americans in South Central L.A. are forced to compete, as they must “fend for themselves, finding the best available opportunities to provide for themselves and their families” (Conley). One of the most damaging structural elements in the film is the Black family itself. The film exposes an increasing termination of the Black family in South Central, Los Angeles. The way in which the film shows this is in how Brenda Baker (Tyra Ferrell) feels it necessary to favor her younger son (Ricky Baker) over her older son (Darin “Doughboy” Baker), because the economic structure (capitalism) dominating her family’s situation compels her to favor him (from her perspective). For Brenda, Ricky, who is a star student-athlete with great potential to not only become a superstar college student-athlete, but also a professional athlete, is her family’s only hope of moving into a more favorable position within the capitalist economic system. The lack of economic and social opportunities for Brenda in South Central Los Angeles with an absent father forces Brenda to favor her children. Darrin becomes her “waste” and Ricky becomes her financial investment. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the film, both Darren and Ricky die—symbolizing how important the unity of the family is and how harmful a capitalist society is.

The idea of labeling and misrepresentation of African-Americans is something Singleton also addresses in this movie (Boyz N the Hood, 1991). Singleton emphasizes on the fact that, African-Americans are generally portrayed in a bad way by society and in the media. In Boyz N the Hood, (Boyz N the Hood, 1991) the main characters all represent someone from the African-American community. Although all personalities might be different from each other, they have one particular thing in common, they are connected through social issues that are affecting their lives. An example of the labeling theory in this movie is Doughboy and Ricky’s mother Brenda. Her view of life and lack of general interest culminates in the paths that both of her sons take. Family plays an important role in the labeling process of youth. Rick and Doughboy come from different fathers. Doughboy’s father is portrayed as uninspired and lazy, two qualities that are reflected in his own lifestyle. Brenda says to Doughboy ‘You ain’t shit, you don’t do shit and all you gonna amount to is shit. All you do is eat, sleep and shit.’ With Ricky, it is a different story. She grabs ricky while caressing his cheek and says, ‘You look more like your daddy every day. I always knew you would amount to something.’ To Doughboy, she says again, ‘you ain’t shit, just like your daddy.’ She reacts so well to Ricky because she sees him as her ticket out of South Central L.A. She believes that he will go to college and get drafted by the NFL. This translates into dollars and a better life for her. Doughboy in her eyes will amount to nothing. By installing these feelings of worthlessness rather than countering them with core values it is a clear example of the labeling theory.

In addition to the labeling and misrepresentation of the characters, this can also be reflected upon the movie itself, as Boyz N the Hood (​Boyz N the Hood​, 1991) is labeled as a gang/hood movie, which is mislabeled. The reason why Boyz N the Hood (​Boyz N the Hood​, 1991) isn’t a gang movie is that Singleton doesn’t emphasize on this, nor do his characters represent gang motives, or are active gang members. In the case of Tre and his friends, they are only a group of youths, who enjoying each others company, and hang out on the front porches of their houses (​Boyz N the Hood​, 1991). In addition, Tre and his friends do exactly what every other seventeen or eighteen year old is doing, which is having fun, going out, and dating. All these are normal aspects of social life that affect every teenager, no matter their background.

In an early scene of this movie, Trey’s house gets burgled so his father calls the police and two policemen show up, one white one black. The two black policeman insults Furious, Trey’s dad, by implying that all black males are the same and then asks the police officer if there is a problem and Furious quickly responds with “It’s just too bad you don’t know what it is…brother.” (Singleton, 1991). This shows us that class is not defined by race as even a black police officer thinks he is superior to other black males although he implies that all black males are the same.

This police officer appears later on in this movie where Trey and Ricky are pulled over for no apparent reason. The police officer threatens Trey as he puts a gun to Treys head without having any evidence that Trey was involved in a crime. This character seems to be put in this movie to show us that the higher class is not just rich white people. We see from the above situation that an African American male was also an oppressor, which makes the definition of race as class inaccurate. Though he is black like his “brothers” he treats his fellows African Americans with contempt that is normally linked with the dominating class or in this case the white clase.

Boyz N the Hood presents a brief summary, as well as mentions the film’s strong messages and values for society. Breaking down the portrayal of a disparate society where blacks occupy a lower rung on the social ladder requires an understanding of the theories mentioned.

Why or why they did not become deviant is shown in this movie through these theories. This film revealed that the main character, named Tre, has a father who strongly influences and guides his development during his young life. Through his father’s involvement in his life, Tre learns responsibility and dedication and successfully avoids the social problems that affect his peers. On the other hand, Tre’s friend, Doughboy, lacks a father in his life. Although Doughboy’s mother is in his life, she favors Doughboy’s brother Ricky over him. Without a father or even a caring and influential mother in his life, Doughboy eventually participates in gang-related violence and ultimately falls to the neighbourhood’s violent cycle. In conclusion, John Singleton demonstrates how the current economic structure, capitalism and these theories are harmful to most people, especially for Black people living in impoverished conditions.

Work cited

  1. Siegel, L. J. (2011). Criminology: the core. Australia: Wadsworth/Engage Learning.
  2. Conley, Dalton. ​You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2011. Print.
  3. Andersen, Margaret L., Kim A. Logio, and Howard Francis Taylor. ​Understanding Society: An Introductory Reader. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001. Print.
  4. MenuDramatica®The Next Chapter in Story Development.’ ​Boyz N The Hood​. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014
  5. Deviance and Social Control: A Sociological Perspective: A Sociological …’ ​Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.
  6. Boyz N the Hood​. (1991). USA. Columbia Pictures.


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