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Wayback Wednesday: Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Ice Cube doesn’t get nearly enough credit as an actor.

One of my pet peeves when it comes to watching movies is when they take forever to set up the tone of the story. Sometimes as much as a half hour will go by before you get a solid sense of what you’re watching. You’re left sitting there going, “I don’t understand the importance or impact of what this movie is trying to tell me.” Then there are movies that don’t waste any time in telling you what kind of story you’re about to watch. Right out of the gate, Boyz n the Hood (1991) makes it crystal clear what it has in store for audiences. The way it starts with powerful, sobering statistics and audio tells you exactly what type of movie you’ve signed up for. It’s going to be a gritty, true-to-life, eye-opening experience that for most, is probably going to be hard to watch. At times it was but oh man, was it worth it. 

Credit: / Columbia Pictures

Written and directed by John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood tells the story of Tre Styles, a young man who grows up with his father in South Central Los Angeles. Surrounded by gang culture, Tre and his best friend Ricky work to better their lives while seeing those around them succumb to violence and crime. 

It’s no secret that I love movies that are written and directed by the same person, but what really blows me away is when those movies are based on the writer’s own experiences. Singleton poured a lot of his personal history into Boyz n the Hood and it shows. The writing is so vivid and so heartbreakingly realistic that only someone who grew up in this house, hung out with these friends, and lived these moments could have produced this script. Anyone else writing this story easily could have twisted it into tragedy porn or used it as a way to look down on and pity those who live in the ghetto. But Singleton instead brilliantly and masterfully holds a mirror up to reality and says, “here is the honest plight of people living in the ghetto. Here is how the violence and crime are cyclical and because of systemic racism, almost impossible to escape. Singleton expertly shows how experiences and those we surround ourselves can shape us, both for the better and for the worse. Boyz n the Hood to me almost has a slight Stand By Me (1986) vibe. The camaraderie of the young people you grow up with and how you’re all bonded by your experiences and where you’re from…It’s no wonder why Singleton was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Fun fact, he was also the youngest person and the first African-American person to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. At the age of 24! That’s like if I was nominated for two Oscars! 

Singleton’s writing is conversational while also being. poignant, universal, and unfortunately, timely, It has all the stylings of a great piece of theatre and I could totally see this movie working as a play. Obviously the writing is sensational and moving as Hell, but even the way he directs is very theatrical. Singleton makes the most of each simple set he uses, infusing every inch of the Crenshaw neighbourhood with more drama and passion than you could imagine. This neighbourhood is really its own world. It’s fully fleshed out with its own rules and customs. 

Like a play, the acting is lively and feels like you’re stepping into the world of these characters. It’s almost like watching a documentary. Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut star as Tre, Doughboy, and Ricky respectively, three very different characters who will send you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Each one is wrestling with what it is they want out of life, and going about getting it in completely different ways. What’s remarkable is that Boyz n the Hood is the first big acting job for each of these actors yet they deliver such powerful performances, you’d guess they already had a filmography of 20 movies under their belts. Each one perfectly captures the pressure their character is under and the desperation they feel to change their lives. Look, a lot of this movie is bleak. But Singleton breaks the bleakness up with rays of light by getting you to root for the boys and hope that they’re able to beat the odds and reach their full potential. Each actor makes their characters feel relatable and alive, making for a heart-wrenching reveal when you find out what happens to Ricky. Let me just say that I was devastated and I still don’t think I’ve processed it yet. 

My absolute favourite part of Boyz n the Hood though was Laurence Fishburne’s performance as Furious, Tre’s father. Fishburne makes you feel the weight on Furious’s shoulders. He’s facing this uphill battle where he wants to raise his son to be responsible and informed enough to escape the world he was born into, but each day brings some new struggle. Still, Furious really is an exceptional dad. Perhaps one of the best I’ve seen in a movie. His goal is to support his son and teach him valuable life lessons. To give him real wisdom and insight that only he can. He just wants to do right by his son so he can be educated and have a better life. Boyz n the Hood is definitely about fathers and sons as a whole, whether they’re in the picture or not. I could see this being a movie you watch as a refresher on how involved a father should be and how he can help his son learn to be a man. But also have how a father’s love and guidance can shape you for the better. Fishburne shines throughout, but it’s his scenes with Gooding Jr. that are the most noteworthy. They have a great back and forth and each deliver some of their best scenes in each other’s company. 

Boyz n the Hood is a monumental movie. It’s one that may be upsetting to watch, but sometimes stories that are hard to watch are often the ones most important that we take the time to see. During my first time seeing this movie I laughed, I cried, and I learned. Also, as much as I was blown away by the performances of the men, Lord knows I could have used more of Angela Bassett and Regina King. I mean, duh, always. Can you believe Boyz n the Hood was each of their first big roles as well? Thank you John Singleton for kickstarting the careers of so many phenomenal actors!

Have you seen Boyz n the Hood?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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