Boyz n the Hood
In 1991, at just 23 years old, John Singleton made his explosively powerful debut with Boyz N the Hood, a film for which he deserved – and largely got – the kind of respect Scorsese earned for Mean Streets, although his Academy Award nomination was not converted into a win and a black director has yet to get the Oscar. In last year’s NWA movie Straight Outta Compton, Ice Cube is shown being furious with Eazy-E for calling it an “after-school special”. It’s way more than that. Boyz N the Hood is a passionate drama shot with fluency and style, a study of what amounts to life during wartime, with people grimly used to gunfire and helicopters thudding overhead.
Watched again, a quarter of a century on, what is so striking is not the confrontational aggression but the movie’s humanity, idealism and lack of cynicism, bolstered by intelligent and powerful performances. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne are Reva and Furious, the sundered parents of Tre Styles – played by Cuba Gooding Jr, whose face looks heartbreakingly boyish and vulnerable – a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Fishburne’s “gentrification” speech is as fierce as ever, along with his denunciation of SAT exams as culturally loaded, with the exception of maths. Ice Cube is Tre’s troubled friend Doughboy, with Morris Chestnut as Doughboy’s brother Ricky; Tyra Ferrell is excellent in the role of their mother, who keeps plastic wrapping on her couch cushions to keep them from getting messed up, a personal touch which ultimately assumes tragic significance.
Ice Cube’s final speech about how fatalistic he is about his own life is subtly moving. It was a movie about male responsibility and sexual behaviour in an era oppressed by HIV/Aids, which perhaps makes it of its time. But it hasn’t dated: this is a key text for the Black Lives Matter movement. Cube’s How to Survive in South Central, played over the closing credits, sends audiences reeling out of the cinema with just as much blistering power.
- 8/31 | 8:00PM