Throughout the month of February, Full Circle Cinema celebrates Black History Month by revisiting films told by prominent Black filmmakers. We will reflect on an extraordinary history filled with moments both triumphant and tragic in the still ongoing fight for equality and justice for all. Through the sharing of stories, we pay tribute to the storytellers. Check out our first installment of 2022’s Black History In Film here and here.
“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
When John Singleton released his directorial debut Boyz n the Hood in 1991, he inspired an entire generation of underrepresented folks. It gained historical significance almost instantly. Its cultural and financial success launches the acting careers of the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, and Ice Cube. However, the film also pulls back the curtain and examines the tolls of systemic racism in America. Along the way, the movie spotlights a Black man trying to provide his son with the tools and mental prowess to navigate the world around him. However, the world is changing, and the unfortunate dangers resulting from circumstances outside of their control pose an ever-present threat to a peaceful existence.
Written and directed by John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood enlists an ensemble that grows more impressive as time goes on. Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Regina King, and Angela Bassett fill out the ranks of a cast that delivers when it matters most. The plot charts Tre Styles (Gooding Jr.), as he is sent to live with his father Furious Styles (Fishburne) in South Central Los Angeles. However, crime and violence plagues the early 1990’s in many predominantly Black neighborhoods. A fact that looms over every move the characters make.
When viewing Boyz n the Hood as a piece of cinematic history over 30 years later, it’s important to note that despite an all-Black cast with very few white faces on-screen, the impact centuries of white supremacy creates results in an environment in which these Black men and women seek nothing but survival. The desire for the American Dream and the lack of opportunity for Black Americans to obtain it is a focal point of the story. Laurence Fishburne’s Furious’ imposing ideals guide the viewer to a new level of understanding of this struggle.
The story kicks off when Tre is just 10-years-old. Living with his single mother in Inglewood, the young man is chockful of intelligence and potential. However, an altercation at school and the response to it from authority figures, cause Tre’s mother to make the tough choice to send him to live with his father. The hopeful mother hopes the boy’s idealistic father can set him on a track towards success. However, once Tre returns to his father’s neighborhood, he reunites with his friends, Doughboy, brother Ricky, and Chris.
As the trio grow up in a volatile world, they each begin to develop unique outlooks. Doughboy joins the Crips. Chris ends up in a wheelchair due to a gunshot. Ricky becomes a star running back at his high school. Due to Tre’s vast intelligence, he is unsurprisingly a bright and responsible young man with dreams of going off to college. However, these young men’s fates will cross paths as the walls close in. Although America was built on the backs of Black men, it is clearly not designed for their success. Desperation grows into the desire to simply survive.
Laurence Fishburne is one of the most talented actors of all time. The way he portrays Furious is breathtaking as he explains his outlook on the lives of his fellow Black Americans. The actor shines in a moment where he takes the boys out and defines what gentrification is. He blames white Americans for the lack of opportunities available for people who look like them. In the past, white supremacy forced Black men and women to live in poverty, create their own neighborhoods, and make their own way. In the future, gentrification will cause all this self-made success to fade away in lieu of white frivolity. It’s a never-ending cycle.
30 years later, it feels as if Black folks will never escape the clutches of systemic racism as it looms as the film’s antagonist. Furious is a man desperate to push the future generation towards success in spite of the odds firmly against them. However, the circumstances of their surroundings force them to constantly be at war with themselves. All the while white Americans attempt to govern them in the form of a relentless police force.
The main characters continuously balance between learning life lessons from an ex-military neighborhood leader and having their lives at risk in a war with the Crips and the Bloods. The film is remembered as a coming-of-age drama taking place in the hood. However, in 2022, it has become an examination of the way this environment has fermented. In many ways, Boyz n the Hood feels more like I am Legend than Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The main characters are left in the wake of disaster caused by white supremacy and they are forced to survive these conditions rather than benefit from the freedom to become who they are meant to be.
Throughout the film, Ricky, Tre, and Doughboy exhibit wit, determination, and grit. These are all tools with which young men should excel in the Land of the Free. However, by the end, two of the bright young men have are dead. The lone survivor is forced to search for a place for himself in the world alone. Growing up viewed as a threat for the mere color of your skin creates the perfect habitat for fury to grow. While this anger leads towards violence against fellow Black brothers and sisters, it’s all they know. Repudiation of limited options overcomes.
The events of the last few years, particularly police violence towards Black men, have caused many to open their eyes. In 1991, Boyz n the Hood poignantly displays the utter despair felt by young Black men in this world. Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and continued racism have forced many young men and women of color to embrace the chaos. Chaos for which they are not at fault for or in control of. Despite the American Dream being systemically stolen from them, older generations still hope for a brighter tomorrow. However, vital lessons overshadow violent reality, and it becomes a battle for the soul of Black America. A soul constantly stifled.
Dripping in painful, interweaving narratives, Boyz n the Hood is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the modern age. It expertly displays the aftermath of white supremacy as a force that continues to hold down the potential of Blackness. When all power lies with those with fairer skin for so long, the aftermath is apocalyptic. It’s heartbreaking that a film shot released in 1991 feels more relevant than ever in 2022. – Christian Hubbard
In honor of the unconscionable murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black lives, please take a moment to visit the Black Lives Matter homepage and see how you can help. Spread awareness!
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