“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” These are the now iconic, and still deeply relevant, words uttered by Ice-Cube’s Doughboy in John Singleton’s timeless drama Boyz n the Hood as he reflects on the struggle of the black community of LA’s Inglewood and Crenshaw. Twenty-five years on from its original release, Boyz n the Hood still manages to strike a chord, remaining pertinent as an artefact that has the power to touch mainstream audiences with its moving tale of three men living in a community stricken with gun crime, drugs and poverty.
Back in 1991, Singleton was a fledgling director fresh out of film school. Despite his inexperience, both his screenplay and the finished film broke out, telling a story based on Singleton’s experience growing up and living in downtown South Central LA, earning him not one but two Academy-Award nominations. It wasn’t just a breakout for Singleton. At the time few had heard of Cuba Gooding Jr, or Laurence Fishburne, or seen Ice-Cube, who at the time had recently departed from NWA after a disagreement over royalties, as an actor.
These performances thrust them into the limelight and can be regarded as the initial step in what would be productive careers in Hollywood lasting to this day. The drama of Boyz n the Hood is centred in contrast. On the one side, we have the beautifully rendered father-son relationship between Furious Styles (Fishburne) and his son, Tre (Gooding Jr.), depicted in a series of blisteringly addictive scenes where they discuss sex with open-hearted honesty, and what it means to be a man. At one point, on the shoreline, Styles preaches, “Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children”.
It is scenes like this that explore Black male identity within a world of violence, where shootings are a daily occurrence, and the steady whump of police helicopter blades is like a backing track to life. On the other side is the hood: a place of poverty where opportunities for better prospects are rare. Ice-Cube’s Doughboy, a street corner dealer, always on show, where everything is about respect and street cred, with him knowing that any sign of weakness will get him killed, is the perfect product of economic deprivation. Ice-Cube’s rendering of the character is captivating, hulking on porches, drinking cheap malt liquor, the direct contrast to Gooding Jr.’s college-bound Tre.
The rage that fuels Singleton’s film is harnessed to great effect, he shows the reality, and while it builds to a melodramatic conclusion, it depicts life at its most raw. While the film speaks of a single community, the story it relates to has universal appeal, with the greatest achievement being Singleton’s deft ability to engender empathy in the viewer with a world that they may not be familiar with, smacking you in the heart with a hammer at the unjustness of the situations his characters confront.