On July 12, 1991 I was 10 years old, and as a crazed Michael Jordan fan, I was still celebrating his and the Chicago Bulls first ever NBA championship. I recorded all five games of their NBA Finals series victory over Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Lakers, the team of the 80’s. While I watched each game several times over studying the moves of Air Jordan and the Magic Man, there was one commercial that had my undivided attention each time it aired. It was the trailer for an upcoming film. It wasn’t a cartoon flick, or comic book superhero film. It was a raw, rugged, gritty one minute and thirty second look at a film that would eventually become one of the most culturally significant in my lifetime.
That film is “Boyz N the Hood,” the coming of age story of three African-American males from the tough streets of South Central Los Angeles. It debut twenty-five years ago today to critical acclaim. Of course with its R rating, my parents weren’t going to let their ten-year old soon to be sixth grade son see a film dripped with gang violence, sex and explicit language. But, something happened a couple of weeks after the movie debuted. A friend of mine got his hands on a bootleg copy (As an aspiring filmmaker I’m not proud of that), and while we were home alone on summer vacation and our parents at work, we watched what would eventually become one of my top five favorite films ever.
This cinematic masterpiece is best known for catapulting the acting careers of rapper Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Junior and Morris Chestnut. We also got to witness the talents of leading ladies, Angela Bassett, Regina King and Nia Long, all of whom have been staples in Hollywood ever since, along with their aforementioned co-stars. It also brought to the forefront one of the great young talents of filmmaking and story telling in John Singleton. Singleton would become the youngest and first African-American to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for this work. He also was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. “Boyz N the Hood” was a triumph for films with a majority African-American cast, as it earned $57.5 million dollars at the Box office on a $6.5 million dollars budget.
The film is so beloved because it’s REAL. Even though it isn’t a documentary, it didn’t need to dramatize what was happening, because it truly was a case of art imitating life.
The characters are witty, charming, easy to root for, and relatable. You had Doughboy (Ice Cube), the drug dealing, yet street-smart, ex-con. In Ricky Baker (Chestnut), Doughboy’s brother and star football player, trying to use his athletic gifts to better his future, and Tre Styles (Gooding, Jr.), the voice of reason who wanted more from his life than to be hanging in the Hood. To my friends’ and I, as well as several other black youth growing up as teens in the mid to late 90’s, this group and their friends we very relatable because in so many ways we were them and experienced some of the same situations they went through thousands of miles away from Los Angeles in Ohio and all over America.
As we reflect on one of the most culturally significant films of this generation–it was added to the national film registry by the Library of Congress in 2002–we must not forget that it highlights problems that continue to plague our community. The themes from this film unfortunately don’t seem to have a remedy anytime soon all these years after Mr. Singleton attempted to push us towards solving them with this heavy-handed message. And that’s my frustration.
The same challenges and obstacles Doughboy, Ricky, Tre and other black youth like them encountered are still crippling our community in Chicago, New York, Baltimore, L.A. and so on and so on. More and more children are growing up without fathers in the home, such as was the case for Doughboy and Ricky. You add in the steady rise of teen pregnancies, which is an issue that Ricky and his girlfriend Shanice had to deal with.
But, most troubling of all, are the rapid deaths of black males at the hands—or gun—of a fellow black male due to increasing gang violence, and even racial profiling at the hands of the police. It might as well still be 1991, hell, 1891 in the case of the issues with law enforcement. The opening scene is a chilling one, as the words “One out of twenty-one black males will be murdered. Most will die at the hands of another of another black male” are superimposed over a black screen appear before we’re introduced to our characters. For perspective, In 2014 (the most recent statistics available) 90 percent of black males were killed by another black male, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That was the fate suffered by Ricky, destroying his dreams of athletic success, and his brother Doughboy, ruining any chance he may have had at turning away from his life of crime. Those stories are all around us today too. In all this time, we’ve still failed to heed the message on the screen after the final scene.
It seems as though the violence has increased, and the peace has decreased.
The thing I love about films, regardless of the genre is, it gives us a glimpse of ourselves, and attempts to inspire us to take the opportunity to make positive change. As you can see, we haven’t made those changes. We still have Chiraq and the thousands of murders in the black community. Just within the past week, we have had to deal with more deaths of innocent black men (Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota) by the police officers that have been sworn to serve and protect.
Twenty-five years from today when we celebrate the fifty-year anniversary, I hope “Boyz N the Hood” will be celebrated for capturing a look at what once was, instead of what continues to be. Now more than ever we need to “Increase The Peace” on all fronts. Or else we won’t be around for the Golden Anniversary.