Boyz ‘n the Hood
Directed by John Singleton
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne (credited as “Larry”?!), Angela Bassett, and Regina King
Many touchstone “hood films” focused on Black communities along the East Coast. Boyz ‘n the Hood is the West Coast’s response, illuminating the struggles of young people of color in neighborhoods that sprawl rather than stack. The differences, it turns, out, significantly matter. Car culture, gang violence, and neighborhood rivalries reveal a unique hell in which young people attempt to grow and survive.
This film also provides a straightforward, moralistic viewpoint as opposed to Do the Right Thing‘s collage of imperfect belief systems (Rapper and former Ice Cube bandmate Eazy E, upon seeing the film, quipped that it was a “Monday after-school special with lots a cussin'”). Laurence Fishburne’s character plainly lays out societal issues facing young Black men today (1991) and offers constructive solutions. Pernicious racial issues such as gentrification, hypersexualization, and “misogynoir” are dissected and examined. This race-issues lecture is wrapped up in a hideous parody of Stand by Me, starting with a quartet of young Black boys going to see a dead body (a drive-by victim in this case) and ending with similar fade out (the friends all becoming victims of violence themselves).
Unlike in Spike Lee’s case, the Academy nominated John Singleton for Best Director, making him the youngest nominee in the history of the category and the first Black person to be included. Boyz ‘n the Hood holds a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 76/100 on Metacritic, and a 7.8/10 on IMDb. Most importantly, it was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2002 for cultural and historical significance.
We’ve visited so many cities this month:
We’ve never visited anywhere in France, though, so April’s theme is…
April NOT in Paris
Our final stop is Los Angeles. I feel that, after giving Spike Lee his due, I pay tribute to the West Coast.
Little did I know that I’d saved my hottest take for last…
When 10-year-old Tre Styles gets sent home from school for fighting, his mother sends him to live with his father, Furious Styles, so that he might have a positive male role model in his life. There, Tre reconnects with his friends Ricky, Doughboy, and Chris. After witnessing Doughboy and Chris’s poor attitudes, Furious cautions Tre not to follow their example. Sure enough, Doughboy and Chris are caught stealing and get sent to juvenile detention.
Seven years later, Tre and Ricky have grown up to have promising futures–Tre looking to study out east while Ricky has a scholarship offer from USC. Chris, now a wheelchair user, still follows Doughboy, who is steadily gravitating towards gang culture.
As all four head into adulthood, they each must navigate the unique snares and pitfalls of life in the hood or risk becoming a victim–and perpetuator–of its cycle of violence.
I thought it was a well-made movie that deserved attention when it was made, and I understand its importance in Black American filmography. That said, in fashion quite opposite to Do the Right Thing‘s searing relevance, I feel that this movie could ONLY have happened in the late 80’s/early 90’s.
Again, I liked this film (and profusely thank it for starting Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Regina King, and Ice Cube’s screen careers), yet some issues discussed and confronted within the film feel dated. Thankfully, some of that is a result of societal progress. Many gang rivalries in cities across America have been discarded in the past 15 years, in part because of united protests against police brutality and killings. Similarly, though Black people are still disproportionally affected, Americans of all races are feeling the constant pull of economic disparity and a failing education system, increasing empathy across racial lines. Finally, representation in media, though not yet ideal, is progressing. More people of color have control over how to truthfully tell their stories than ever before.
Much of the culture has changed since Boyz ‘n the Hood was released, too. “Pimped rides,” Hardcore Rap, and “gangsta idolatry” aren’t as prevalent as they were 30 years ago. As such, I found it easy to compartmentalize the movie’s messages into an “olden days” section of my mind.
That is, until I couldn’t. Boyz ‘n the Hood still has its moments– an encounter between Gooding Jr.’s Tre and a self-loathing Black cop was more stomach-churning than most horror movies. Another heartbreaking scene comes as Mia, Tre’s girlfriend is trying to study for her SAT, and is startled by passing gunshots, then mad at herself for her lack of focus.
Ice Cube’s character, Doughboy, is especially tragic when watching from today’s viewpoint. The constant degradation he receives from his mother while she praises his half-brother, Ricky, should trigger anyone who’s dealt with “Golden Child” parental abuse. Additionally, Furious’s dire warning to a young Tre about Doughboy’s future feels like a Classical Destiny Curse. I know that the man has enough trouble looking out for one kid, but Furious could’ve encouraged his son to visit Doughboy in juvie or invited the child over for supper sometime and provided a positive male role model for the kid, however sparingly. Instead, Doughboy’s predictable character arc enraged me, as if the boy was unavoidable damage.
I believe my passion about these moments outweighs my criticisms about Boyz ‘n the Hood‘s dated aspects. This movie still has much to say, just with a different attitude and from a different place than its East-Coast counterpart. Besides, with hood films, unlike every other cinematic genre, irrelevance is the eventual goal.
This question requires a more nuanced answer than last week’s “Shut up, and watch it anyway!”
In the “pro” column, this movie has entertaining moments, a somewhat hopeful ending, fun nostalgic elements, and excellent early work from many actors America treasures today (I’d wouldn’t mind having Morpheus and Queen Ramonda for parents). Boyz ‘n the Hood also contains essential messages film audiences still need to hear.
In the “con” column, though, is the accidental glorification of the gangbanger lifestyle. This movie is FAR from the worst offender, and takes pains to show the emptiness of that life. Certainly, none of the characters want to be a part of it. Other movies of the time, however, promoted the lifestyle, making the “gangsta” a cowboy figure alluring to many young men in America.
Thankfully, younger generations are becoming less attracted to the violent aspects of the archetypal image (there’s nothing wrong with that kind of fashion, after all), but this archetype is another example of how rubber-stamped portrayals can perpetuate untrue stereotypes. Many network TV shows relied upon clichés spawned from these movies, repeatedly bastardizing and flattening the characterizations until America and many foreign markets only saw this image and lifestyle when a Black character was on screen.
Again, I think the good greatly outweighs the bad where Boyz ‘n the Hood is concerned. Just steer clear of media that contains its “fellow kids.”