Shocking news hit the headlines thirteen days ago that John Singleton had suffered a stroke. I for one was immediately disturbed and distraught until I first heard it was a mild stroke. ( My mother recently suffered a mild stroke as well so I immediately had confidence that he would have a slow but successful recovery. To my dismay days later I first heard John Singleton was now in a coma and his family was having a discrepancy about his estate.
In the back of my mind I was thinking, “Why are they fighting over this man’s estate and who would decide what, as I thought that Singleton was showing signs of improvements. Hours later I read the news that John Singleton had passed away at the young age of 51. My heart is literally broken. Singleton was a young black filmmaker who understood LA history. He perfectly depicted life in South Central LA for a black man and the worries of a black woman raising a young black son grooming him to be a man. Singleton just perfectly understood and knew how to capture it all on film. The LA Times explained it best:
His death Monday at the age of 51 coincided with the 27th anniversary of the 1992 riots that tore apart his city, one that he depicted with great love and tenderness, force and fury. Los Angeles was where Singleton attended USC film school and where he set several of his projects, most recently the FX series “Snowfall,” a snapshot of the crack cocaine epidemic in the early ’80s, and “L.A. Burning,” a 2017 A&E documentary about the riots that he produced. It was also, of course, the setting of his landmark 1991 first feature, “Boyz N the Hood.”
Drawn from shards of Singleton’s personal experience, “Boyz N the Hood” had the furious urgency of something wrested from deep within its maker’s gut, but it also spoke with the assurance and clarity of someone who had thought long and hard about what he wanted to say.
The story spans seven years in the life of Tre Styles (played at different ages by Desi Arnez Hines II and Cuba Gooding Jr.), whose mother, fearing for his childhood and his future, sends him to live with his stern, loving father. It’s a decision that makes a crucial difference for Tre as he and his closest friends grow up, hang out, get in trouble, fall in love and find themselves vulnerable to both the lure and the impact of gang violence.
Singleton’s movie vividly captures the flow and texture of life in homes and communities where the everyday reality of crime is answered, but rarely solved, by a near-continual background hum of helicopters and police sirens. What makes the picture so resonant is its irreducibility, its ability to see how scenes of domestic contentment and broader upheaval — a backyard barbecue, a father’s banter with his son, an instance of youthful bullying, a drive-by shooting — come to exist on the same continuum.
With “Baby Boy,” he analyzed and exploded theories about the systemic infantilization of the African American male, turning assumptions about gun-toting brothers and philandering, neglectful fathers into characters whose complexity transcended stereotype. That complexity, it’s worth noting, wasn’t reserved only for men; the movie’s finest performance is given by a young Taraji P. Henson as Gibson’s justly defiant girlfriend, who, like more than a few women in Singleton’s body of work, refuses to be either mistreated or pigeonholed.