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John Singleton tragically passed away at the age of 51. It's clear through the outpouring of memories and tributes from the likes of Ice Cube, Jordan Peele, Samuel L. Jackson, and others that Singleton left an undeniable mark on the industry and the people in it/surrounding it, including writer-producer-all around creative Lena Waithe.
Waithe, who's working on everything from Showtime's The Chi to the upcoming film Queen & Slim, is a product of Singleton's legacy, and during a previously-scheduled interview, Lena took the time out to share her thoughts on John Singleton's life, including some insight on their personal relationship, the wisdom he's imparted on her, and how his influence manifests itself in her own work.
"The thing about it is, John is somebody who was a hardcore, real brotha. He was a real dude, in every sense of the word, and I think anybody knows what I mean by that. He wasn't this cheesy guy who was saying cheesy shit. He would be like, 'You gotta tell the truth.'
"I believe the last time I saw him, funny enough, was at the Season 2 premiere of Atlanta. I'd met him before that—he and I'd run into each other. He would always be really excited and there was always this cool energy whenever he would see me. I think it was really his pride; I think he definitely looked at me and was like, 'Yeah, you out here doing your thing, you out here being yourself, you're not compromising for anybody,' and I think the part of him... I could tell was really proud of that and appreciated that. I don't think he ever really understood how much of watching him is why I am the way I am. Like I said in my post, is that he made—I can't think of a blacker movie than Boyz n the Hood, and for him [to be] the first African American to be nominated for [the Best Director Academy Award]. John really made history, and I think a lot of people sometimes really forget that, because he can be overshadowed by Spike. I think sometimes just because of Spike, and that folklore that goes with him—I'm sure Spike would probably speak about how John Singleton spoke to a completely different audience. East Coast, West Coast thing, you know? John, he's so Los Angeles.
"As we tell stories, I always tell people, you can't look at [Boyz in the Hood characters] Doughboy, Tre, and Ricky, and not think about [The Chi characters] Jake, Kevin, and Papa; it's a direct reflection of those characters. Even me, [I said], 'I wanted a chubby kid to be a part of this trio.' It was written in the paperwork and I think a lot of that was because of Doughboy; that flashback of them kids is in my DNA. I remember seeing a chubby kid who was cool and interesting and kinda had the most depth among the crew. And so you can't deny that one happens to be in L.A. and one happens to be in Chicago.
"Obviously, Poetic Justice; don't sleep on Higher Learning. Baby Boy is a fucking classic—he really brought it and really spoke to people to their face; he was like, 'I'm not gonna get all high falutin' and I'm not gonna give you no low-hanging fruit. I'm gonna talk directly to you.' I remember seeing Baby Boy and seeing Taraji P. Henson for the first time and being like, 'I don't know who that is but she's a star. She's a star.' John Singleton gave us Taraji P. Henson. Jody and all that kind of shit? That's us, that's our lives. You can't tell me that when you look at Emmett and Tiffany fighting on The Chi, it's a direct influence. We have the same shit. It's the same shit just different day, just hold to a different lens in a different city. All of us are touched by him.
"I just feel bad for the city of L.A., to lose Nipsey and to lose John. These are two Los Angeles kings, in a real way."