G.D. over at the brilliant PostBourgie has taken another look at the seminal hood film, Boyz N The Hood:
It’s hard to overstate the impact John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz n’ the Hood had on black cinema. It helped launch the careers of a slew of prominent actors: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding, Jr., (who would all go on to be Oscar nominees on other films), as well as Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, and Ice Cube. (Regina King, who remains the most criminally underemployed actress in Hollywood, has a bit part, as well.) It garnered lots of critical praise two Academy Award nominations, bestowing upon it broader cultural legitimacy. And it created a template for “authenticity” that other films aimed at black audiences tried to emulate, and did, for the rest of the 1990’s, with varying degrees of success.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s such a crappy movie.
Yup – "crappy."
But reading the piece and seeing the film through G.D.'s eyes, I can see how one might have come to dislike the film over time.
In my younger days, I also wrote a retrospective piece on the film where I pretty much sidestepped all the issues that G.D raises beautifully and said some naive things like:
The females in the film are not wasted, they do what they can in a world where everyone is trying to be a man.
Reading both pieces again, I largely still agree with that statement above, minus that "not wasted" part. What I didn't say in that piece (and should have) is that even though the portrayals by Angela Bassett and Tyra Ferrell (and to a lesser extent, Nia Long) are terrific and three-dimensional and powerful, their roles in the world Singleton created are marginalized.
What I was trying to do in that piece was give love to the actresses who found ways to expand their limited roles and give life to characters that do represent millions of black women who are the backbone of the black community, but whose stories are never the focal point. I don't think my piece is successfully conveys that point, unfortunately.
That said, I still think Boyz N The Hood is a great film because it presents black people as flesh and blood human beings and that is still a rare thing. And the summation of the film that explains why I think the film works still rings true for me now:
Ricky dies because, dramatically, he is the hope of the film and the film carries more weight if the one character who seems least put upon by his surroundings is the one who is killed. Ricky was supposed to make it. He isn't the smartest, Singleton knows this, but he is what America will accept from such an environment. It is key that we don't know that Tre is taking the SATs until the camera pans over from Ricky. An association is made, yes, but more importantly the weight of such a test and a future is placed on Ricky not Tre.
What is fascinating about this is that Singleton so assuredly relies on the audience to be following Tre so that he can do two very different things. One, set up the tragedy and two, indict society for setting up a world that would let a Doughboy fall through the cracks, a Tre be completely ignored and almost taken for granted, and a Ricky to be (sic) the beacon of hope.