John Singleton, director of Boyz N the Hood, dies at 51

«I think I was living this film before I ever thought about making it,» Singleton told Vice in 2016. «As I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, and cinema became an option, it was just natural that this was probably gonna be my first film. In fact, when I applied to USC film school they had a thing that asked you to write three ideas for films. And one of them was called Summer of ’84, which was about growing up in South Central LA.»

In 2002, Boyz N the Hood was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which called it «an innovative look at life and the tough choices present for kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles.»

Singleton in 1991, following the release of Boyz N The Hood.

Singleton in 1991, following the release of Boyz N The Hood.Credit:AP

Singleton’s death Monday followed a turbulent week during which his family members made opposing court filings regarding his health. Singleton had been in intensive care in a Los Angeles hospital since he had a stroke on April 17. A court filing last week by his mother, Shelia Ward, requested that she be appointed Singleton’s temporary conservator in order to make medical and financial decisions while he was incapacitated.

Ward’s filing said that Singleton was in a coma. But on Friday, Singleton’s daughter Cleopatra Singleton, 19, filed a declaration disputing that account. She maintained that her father was not in a coma and that doctors did not «have a concrete diagnosis.» She opposed her grandmother becoming conservator, or guardian.

Singleton’s passing prompted widespread praise for a filmmaker who, as his Shaft star Samuel L. Jackson said, «blazed the trail for many young film makers,» while «always remaining true to who he was and where he came from.»

Ava DuVernay called him «a giant among us.» Spike Lee said, «We’ll miss you but your films will live on.» Jordan Peele, the Oscar-winning Get Out and Us filmmaker, called him «a brave artist and a true inspiration.»

«His vision changed everything,» said Peele.

None of Singleton’s subsequent movies received the acclaim of Boyz N the Hood and he was criticised at times for turning characters into mouthpieces for political and social messages. But he attracted talent ranging from Tupac Shakur to Don Cheadle and explored themes of creative expression (Poetic Justice), identity (Higher Learning) and the country’s racist past, notably in Rosewood, based on a murderous white rampage against a black community in Florida in 1923. He also made the coming-of-age story Baby Boy, a remake of the action film Shaft and an installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, 2 Fast 2 Furious. More recent projects included the FX crime drama Snowfall, which he helped create. Starring Damson Idris, Snowfall returned Singleton to the Los Angeles of his youth and the destructive effects of the rise of crack cocaine.

«Drugs devastated a generation. It gave me something to write about, but I had to survive it first,» Singleton told the Guardian in 2017. «It made me a very angry young man. I didn’t understand why I was so angry, but I wasn’t someone who took my anger and applied it inward. I turned it into being a storyteller. I was on a kamikaze mission to really tell stories from my perspective — an authentic black perspective.»

Singleton was married twice, and had five children. Besides his career in movies, Singleton also directed the memorable, Egyptian-themed video for Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time, which included Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson. He cast hip-hop artists and other musicians in many of his films, including Ice Cube in Boyz N the Hood, Janet Jackson and Shakur in Poetic Justice and Tyrese Gibson in Baby Boy.

Singleton’s early success didn’t shield him from creative conflicts or frustration with Hollywood studios. He blamed the commercial failure of Rosewood on lack of support from Warner Bros. He fought with producer Scott Rudin during the making of Shaft and was furious when Rudin brought in author/screenwriter Richard Price to revise the script. He had planned to direct a biopic about Shakur, but quit after clashing with Morgan Creek Productions. In 2014, he chastised the industry for «refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films,» but Singleton was pleased in recent years by the emergence of Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele and others.

«There are these stacks of (films by non-black filmmakers) where black people have had to say, ‘OK, at least they tried,»‘ he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, adding that now blacks were making the films themselves. «What’s interesting when you see Black Panther is you realise it couldn’t have been directed by anybody else but Ryan Coogler. It’s a great adventure movie and it works on all those different levels as entertainment, but it has this kind of cultural through-line that is so specific that it makes it universal.»

Most recently, Singleton’s focus turned largely to television, where he directed episodes of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (for which he was nominated for an Emmy), Empire and Billions. He co-created and executive produced Snowfall, and directed three episodes.


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