John Singleton’s 1991 debut Boyz n the Hood is the story of a group of friends coming of age in South Central, LA. After an extended flashback set in 1984, the film catches up with the boys as high school seniors in the present day. Tré Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a soft-spoken virgin that drives a wimpy blue VW bug, while his good-for-nothing gangster friend Doughboy (Ice Cube) rides a souped-up Cadillac and packs heat. The serious, dedicated Tré has a job and a future, and Doughboy’s brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut) has real prospects for going to college on an athletic scholarship.
It’s worth noting that the most evil, racist person in the movie is a black cop. It’s a double whammy; as both a policeman and an adult black man, he ought to have been the man the kids could looked up to and relied on the most. Indeed, the one key factor that differentiates Tré from his circle of doomed friends is his role model. His father Furious Styles’ (Laurence Fishburne) uncompromising parenting style helps keep Tré from the fates that befall many of his friends.
Singleton himself has a cameo appearance as the totally blasé mailman that delivers mail during a front-lawn fistfight. Boyz n the Hood was Singleton’s first film, notable for being one of the first mainstream movies to tell a kind of story for a kind of audience Hollywood historically ignored or exploited. But its relatively low budget also corresponds to clumsy direction, awkward editing, and some crummy acting (especially Baha Jackson as the young Doughboy). The DVD edition I saw was panned & scanned, a travesty that certainly didn’t help. Stanley Clarke’s cheesy lite jazz score is surprisingly awful, and I say that as a fan of Clarke who’s seen the jaw-dropping bassist live in concert.
Boyz n the Hood opens with the sobering statistic that in 1991, 4 in 21 African American males will be murdered within their lifetime. But it also ends with the hopeful epigram: “Increase the Peace.”