So I watched Boyz n the Hood…
This is a film that I’ve long been meaning to watch. I recently hosted a blogathon about Unsung Heroes and one of the participants – Dell On Movies – wrote a post about Laurence Fishburne and mentioned his performance in this film being worthy of an Oscar. I fully agree and think that The Academy snubbed quite a few actors in this one.
Okay, basic plot: After her son – Tre – gets into repeated fights at school, Reva Styles (Angela Bassett) decides that it might be best for Tre to go live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne). Furious lives in the rough neighbourhood of South Central, Los Angeles – a less than ideal area for a child to grow up in; but Reva hopes that Furious can teach Tre respect and how to be a man. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jnr) – under Furious’ tutelage – grows up into a responsible young man, managing to stay away from most of the destructive pathways his neighbourhood has to offer. His friends, however, are not that lucky.
There’s a song called ‘The Ghetto’ which The Game released on one of his recent albums – The Documentary 2.5. The song features Nas and will.I.am and explains how the world is filled with slums, ghettos and even though they’re spread across the globe, they’re all undeniably similar. I mention this because even though I’ve never been to America or spent an enormous amount of time in ghettos (or townships as we call them in my part of the world) I identified with this story in unexpected ways. You can’t appreciate this film without acknowledging its status as a political message, a cry for freedom. This film is a deconstruction and an examination of a system of oppression that we call ‘The Hood’.
The idea behind it is simple. You stuff people into over-crowded neighbourhoods – far from the more affluent sections of town. Now when I say ‘more affluent’ I do of course mean white. You then flood the neighbourhoods with cheap, easily attainable liquor and drugs. Supply them with a police force not sufficient to enforce law in the area, therefore, forming a perfect breeding ground for crime. Now the most important part of this is that you have to form divisions within this overly-crowded, crime-filled neighbourhood so that its inhabitants are so busy fighting each other that they forget to focus their attention on you and the tyranny that you’re forcing over them. It’s a tried and tested recipe and history has shown its efficacy.
Now before I go on a full political rant, let’s bring it back to Boys n the Hood. The thing that the film does well is that it shows you all of the elements that I’ve just described and how the system is built for black people to fail but it adds accountability to its characters. When Tre comes to live with Furious, he’s at a tipping point. You could easily see him becoming another statistic or breaking the cycle and attaining success. Furious takes him in and rather than force Tre to hate ‘The Hood’ and seek escape; he imparts Tre with an appreciation of it. He gives Tre the tools to make up his own mind and decide what kind of man he wants to be. I loved this because often films that discuss this subject matter treat ghettos as prisons that need to be fleed whereas Boyz n the Hood treats them as communities that need enlightenment and upliftment.
John Singleton wrote and directed this film and his work here is phenomenal. It becomes even more impressive when you think that Singleton was in his early twenties when this film came out. His writing shows an understanding and maturity that you’d expect from someone twice his age at the time. He earned nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and – at the time – was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director. The nominations were deserved but I think they were not enough. This film deserved a Best Picture WIN but didn’t even get nominated. I don’t want to tear down the films and people who did receive nominations and wins because their work was deserving but I think Boyz n the Hood deserved it more. I don’t want to get into racial politics but we all know The Academy isn’t the most just authority when it comes to recognising films that feature people of colour.
Speaking of Oscar snubs, I think Cuba Gooding Jnr and Ice Cube were ROBBED! Not only of nominations but also wins. Gooding Jnr is amazing as Tre. He embodies the character and brings across the strength and insecurity of Tre to life beautifully. Even if Gooding Jnr had landed a nomination, his competition for Best Actor would have been Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs – not an easy performance to beat. A performance that certainly would be easy to beat would be that of Jack Palance in City Slickers. Look, I love Jack Palance. I think he’s one of the manliest men to ever walk the planet. I’m pretty sure if Jack Palance smoked a cigarette, the cigarette would end up getting cancer instead of him; BUT his performance in City Slickers was not anything sensational. Ice Cube’s turn in this film is. Cube has the intensity and rage of his character Doughboy down to a tee but also shows a fragility that makes the character truly memorable. He deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar for sure.
Though I single out these two actors, the cast in this film is splendid. Laurence Fishburne shows off his skills as the wise, older mentor in this film that he’d fully tap into for his work in The Matrix. Angela Bassett is quality par excellence and Morris Chestnut puts in a debut that explains the longevity of his career.
Overall, Boys n the Hood is the very definition of a classic. Though set twenty-six years ago, its as relevant today as it was then. It’s a film with a great message but also one that is extremely entertaining. It warrants watching, no matter your race, creed or size of your bank account.