Last year, I gathered with a slew of black folks to sit under the Los Angeles moonlight with libations and snacks to watch an outdoor screening (shout-out to Street Food Cinema) of Boyz n the Hood. I had seen the film no less than 50-leven times and this particular gathering was particularly suitable for interactive movie viewing. You know the kind — where you recite the lines in some sort of an unwritten “I know the movie better than you” contest uniquely ingrained in black culture. I knew the movie meant a lot to me — and meant a lot to us — but that fact was no better embodied than that moment, as we coalesced with friends and strangers alike to experience an iconic piece of black film history. “Rickyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!”
John Singleton’s directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Regina King and Tyra Ferrell. According to the film’s IMDB page, Boyz n the Hood “follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence and future prospects.” A coming-of-age film that showcased the power of brotherhood (“You still got one brother left, man”), Boyz n the Hood was like our Stand By Me. The film went on to make history during award season with Singleton being the youngest person ever nominated and the first African-American to be nominated for the Best Director Academy Award.
Amongst its hard-hitting themes, Boyz n the Hood was ultimately a character film. Every character had a moment. Whether it was Tre Styles’ (Gooding, Jr.) tearful climactic air punch, Ricky’s (Chestnut) dramatic slow motion run or Doughboy’s (Cube) unforgettable “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood” monologue, this film seeps into our pores… perhaps, subconsciously. Plus, the film introduced us to the legendary Furious Styles, the firm and ever-present father (to push back on stereotypes) equipped with his rotating medicine balls and whose breakout scene erupts into a teachable moment about gentrification and the cycle of criminalization within black neighborhoods.
The women of the film are unforgettable, as they serve as the pillars around the main characters. Bassett portrays Reva, a single mother with the strength of 10,000 Samsons. King personifies the “homegirl” we all know in Shalika. Long is the “girl next door” type, and burning the hearts of many viewers who had a crush on her. Ferrell shines as Brenda Baker, the mother who wars between her fave, Ricky and her disdain, Doughboy. While her screen time is short, one will never forget Shanice’s piercing scream when she first saw Ricky’s bloody body, which was perfectly executed by Alysia Rogers.
Like any great drama, there are moments of levity such as Tre’s hyperbolic sex tale (“But can you drive… stick?”) or the cookout dominoes scene where humor was added to the weight of HIV/AIDS ignorance surrounding our community at the time. These lighthearted breaks add to the wholeness of the hood’s vulnerable grittiness. Often, when struck with survival, people are faced with grabbing whatever they can to endure and sometimes, that’s simply… a laugh. Just as swift as the pain from watching Ricky’s ultimate peril, comes the consolation of humor. It’s a complicated balancing act, but Boyz n the Hood manages to keep it steady.
The phrase “before its time” is oft-tossed around to describe works of art and Boyz n the Hood has certainly earned this description. However, an arguably more fitting label would be “timeless.” As relevant as the police brutality dynamics were relevant in South Central LA in the 90s, they are as relevant today in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.
Boyz n the Hood never gets old, and surely a bulk of the black community can relate. We do know, do show and certainly care about Boyz n the Hood… forever.