Boyz n the Hood (1991) – dir. John Singleton

In an early scene in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, young Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy venture into a nearby neighborhood to check out an abandoned dead body among the streets. Immediately after this discovery, they are bullied by an older gang member who asserts authority over them and steals their football. This scene alone offers a look into two of the most problematic issues facing the predominantly black communities of south-central California: the normalization of death and violence within these neighborhoods, and the perpetual fight for dominance in this fight-or-flight environment.

Indeed, for the time that this film was released, Boyz n the Hood is entirely in a class of its own. It avoids the glamorization of this violent lifestyle (the likes of which can be seen in the Eazy-E song of the same name), and presents the situation of these characters with genuine tragedy. Because often, the only way to live in these parts is with the premonition that at any given moment, you could be threatened at gunpoint or teetering at the edge of death. This film represents this distress very well.

Viewers get to see Tre and his companions mature from childhood into almost-adulthood, taking hold of this way of life the entire way. Their conversation is laden with tinges of misogyny (an aspect that I, personally, would have liked to see more depth in) and a masculine fascination with violence. However, this film demonstrates the reality of these circumstances, in that one doesn’t have to be involved in gang culture to be a target of its strong-armed offense. One of my favorite scenes in the film presents this scene all too clearly, ending the story with a gripping sense of stark realism that plants this message clear as crystal and refuses to let go.

Many who have and will watch this film have never ventured into the corrupt world of the ghetto. Singleton paints a vivid, poignant picture of the environment as a whole, a world where one is given no choice but to fight for their lives every moment of every day. It’s all the more impressive that this was his debut film at the age of twenty-three. It’s a stunning picture of the black ghetto that is seldom given the attention it needs. However, it would be really hard for a similarly themed film to top its magnificence in portrayal and realism of events.

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