Director John Singleton, who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated Boyz N the Hood and continued over the following decades to probe the lives of black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond, has died. He was 51.
Singleton was in his early 20s, just out of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, when he wrote, directed and produced Boyz N the Hood. Based on Singleton’s upbringing and shot in his old neighborhood, the low-budget production starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube and centered on three friends in South Central Los Angeles, where college aspirations competed with the pressures of gang life. Boyz N the Hood was a critical and commercial hit, given a 20-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and praised as a groundbreaking extension of rap to the big screen, a realistic and compassionate take on race, class, peer pressure and family. Singleton would later call it a “rap album on film.”
For many, the 1991 release captured the explosive mood in Los Angeles in the months following the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. Boyz N the Hood also came out at a time when, thanks to the efforts to Spike Lee and others, black films were starting to get made by Hollywood after a long absence.