‘Boyz n the Hood’ Gave a Voice to the Voiceless

'Boyz n the Hood' showed mainstream culture a world they had ignored up to that point.

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Complex Original

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When Boyz n the Hood premiered 25 years ago in July 1991, it was met with a string of violence. At least 25 incidents were reported in more than 800 theaters nationwide. But even in the face of that violence, and the media’s implications that Boyz was entirely to blame for it, director John Singleton never wavered from his movie’s message. In what was called a “hastily called news conference,” Singleton said the acts of violence were "indicative of the degeneration of American society, not a reflection of my film, which is about family, love and friendship." Singleton went on to fault a society "breeds illiteracy and economic deprivation... There's a whole generation of people who are disenfranchised." 

As far as those who committed the violent acts, Singleton said, "There's a certain segment of the population that wants you to do what you're doing to each other. But we don't have time for that.”

Boyz n the Hood brought a certain awareness to gang life that had been missing from film and media. So often is mainstream culture and society talking at black people; Boyz n the Hood was black folks speaking for themselves. The film examined race and gender—notably black masculinity—with complexity, which decades later, proves to be a difficult task for far too many. 

Even before he became a celebrated and iconic film director, John Singleton had the confidence to call out bullshit when he saw it. While he was a film student at the University of Southern California, Singleton attended an advance screening for the movie Colors. During a post-screening Q&A, Singleton told one of the film’s producers, “You advertise this movie like it's about my community, and it's really about two white cops. It's not about what's really going on there.”

When Boyz n the Hood was released in theaters, I was barely six years old. I saw the film by way of my sister, who was often my access point into what was pivotal in culture at the time but not especially kid-friendly. So, much like The Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” released around the same time as John Singleton’s iconic film, I was consuming imagery and narratives that required a sort of thoughtfulness and maturation only time could provide. 

That said, young or not, there were some things I could pick up on in those moments.

Despite him proving to be more of a chaotic figure in my life, I knew that like Tre Styles, I was still considered very fortunate to be a black boy child with my black male father in my life to others around me. I knew of people like Doughboy, who, after serving time in time in prison, quickly returned to old habits. In the coming years, I came across figures like Ricky, whose athletic prowess was their only real means of escaping an area that offered little much in the way of options of attaining real social mobility. And while my hood was not as chaotic as what was happening in South Central Los Angeles, I knew of drugs, gangs, and young black men losing their lives to gun violence (in some cases, only a few streets over from me) just like those characters.

I also know that for enough people around me, shows like The Cosby Show were as far removed from their reality as Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, even its spinoff, A Different World, felt out of reach from their realities. Boyz n the Hood lent a voice to black people living in areas that are easy to dismiss. Places in America like South Central, which were discarded as fueled with violence, overwrought with poverty, and drowning in nihilism but never fully explained, i.e. how the likes of Ronald Reagan and his policies helped make it so. Much like Spike Lee did with Do the Right Thing for Brooklyn, Singleton was able to add color and context. 

And while there have been some improvements, other problems depicted in the film still exists today. That is why after too many black men, women, and children have recently lost their lives at the hands of the state, what I find most significant about this film 25 years later is that it offered honesty and nuance to people who are so often depicted as caricature by mass media. By films such as Colors, or if you’ve turned on the news recently, by racists such as the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. Unfortunately, after Boyz seemingly broke through a barrier, white Hollywood still can’t get out of the way; they can’t, and won’t, let us tell our own stories, as Boyz did. That’s right: we are on the verge of another film like Colors

Late last month, Deadline reported that Daniel Craig was in talks to join Halle Berry in a film centered on the L.A. riots called Kings. The film, which will mark the English-language debut of Deniz Gamze Erguven, sounds another white savior narrative in the midst of Black civil unrest narrative.

The synopsis: “Craig will play Ollie, a loner who lives in South Central—one of its only white residents—who befriends Berry’s character, a tough, protective mother who looks after a group of kids. When the riots explode in the city, Craig’s character helps Berry, who is secretly in love with him, try and track down the kids from the worst of the violence. Kings will have the same mix of lightness and tough emotion that made Mustang such a standout.”

I have two hopes for this film. One, I hope it makes grosses no more than the cost of two matinee tickets in Kentucky. Two, I hope in the same way Colors helped push John Singleton to make Boyz n the Hood, this movie will do the same for another black filmmaker.

We don’t need anymore fakers and we certainly don’t need the black experience being used as a backdrop for another masturbatory celebration of the white hero. Boyz n the Hood matters because it’s black people who know the life they’re depicting sharing our stories the way they should be told.

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