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Singleton, John 1968–

John Singleton 1968

Screenwriter, director

Began Writing Screenplays

Portrait of a Young Black American

Film Debut Marred by Violence

Follow-up Film a Disappointment

Remade Classic Blaxpoitation Film

Selected filmography

Sources

John Singletons debut film, Boyz N the Hood, critically acclaimed for its realistic treatment of the black urban setting, has contributed greatly to a revival of black films by black filmmakers. Film critic Susan Stark, writing in the Detroit News, claimed that these filmmakers are an extraordinary group of artists. They are energizing American movies on a scale not seen since World War II, when Hitler forced many of Europes greats to seek refuge in Hollywood. Whereas the black exploitation films of the 1970s (Shaft, Super Fly) offered stereotyped, violent entertainment for blacks but were often directed or produced by whites, the black films of the late 1980s and the 1990s addressed critical social issues indigenous to the black community. With Baby Boy, Singletons first film of the millenium and a companion piece to Boyz N the Hood, Singleton closed out the first ten years of his career with yet another socially-significant piece.

John Singleton was born in 1968, in South-Central Los Angeles. Raised in the same type of neighborhood depicted in Boyz N the Hood, Singleton spent his childhood years shuttling between his unmarried parents. My parents didnt have a lot of money, he told Time. I used to steal little stuff, like candy, toys, and Players magazines, but I never got into anything too rough. Part of the reason he stayed clean was the attention his parents paid to him, and part of that attention, which ultimately influenced his career choice, was his fathers taking him to see movies. By the time he was nine years old, Singleton decided he was going to make motion pictures. He gorged on films by Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa, John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola, Karen Grigsby Bates noted in the New York Times Magazine. Singleton learned from these masters, but he needed to express something that they could not. I always wanted to do a real film about what its like growing up Black, he told Ebony. There are always stories about how Whites grow up, films like American Graffiti or Rebel Without a Cause.

Began Writing Screenplays

While in high school, Singleton learned that the film business was controlled by screenplays. After I heard that, I knew I had to learn how to write, so I did, he told Time. This focus proved valuable. After graduating from high school in 1986, Singleton was accepted to

At a Glance

Born in 1968, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Danny Singleton (a mortgage broker) and Sheila Ward (a pharmaceutical company sales executive); married Akosua Busia, 1996; divorced, 1997; children: five. Education: Received degree from the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, 1990.

Career: Signed on with the Creative Artists Agency during second year at USC; signed three-year contract with Columbia Pictures to develop and direct films, 1990; writer and director: Boyz N the Hood, 1991; Poetic justice, 1993; Higher Learning, 1995; Shaft, 2000; Baby Boy, 2001; director: Rosewood, 1997; director of Michael Jacksons music video, Remember the Time.

Awards: Three writing awards from the University of Southern California; First African American and Youngest Director to be nominated for Best Director Oscar, 1992.

Addresses: AgentBradford W. Smith, Creative Artists Agency, Inc., 1888 Century Park E., Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Televisions prestigious Filmic Writing Program. During his four-year studies there, he won three writing awards.

These achievements in writing earned Singleton a contract with the powerful Creative Artists Agency during his sophomore year at USC, and in May of 1990, his agent sent the script for Boyz N the Hood to Columbia pictures. The response was immediate: I thought Johns script had a distinctive voice and great insight, Frank Price, chairman of Columbia Pictures, said in an interview excerpted in the New York Times. Hes not just a good writer, but he has enormous self-confidence and assurance. In fact, the last time Id met someone that young with so much self-assurance was Steven Spielberg. Columbia wanted to make the picture, but at first wanted someone else to direct it. Singleton believed only he could do it. They asked me if I would consider anybody else directing it, he recalled to Interviews Steven Daly. And I said, Hell, no, Im not gonna let somebody from Idaho or Encino direct a movie about living in South Central Los Angeles. They cant come in here and cast it and go through the rewrites and know exactly what aesthetics are unique to this film.

Portrait of a Young Black American

Columbia finally agreed, giving Singleton a $7 million budget. The film, which had its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring of 1991, follows three characters at two different stages in their lives: first at the age of 10, then at age 17. At the beginning of the film, Tre Styles, the protagonist, is sent by his mother, Reva, to live with his father, Furious, in hopes that the unruly boy will learn to be a man. In his new neighborhood Tre meets two half-brothers who live across the street: Rickey and Doughboy. Together, these three characters grow up in an environment where, as David Denby described in New York magazine: all day, jets heading for LAX come in low over the small tract houses; at night, police helicopters join in the din, training down their lights. The sun shines regularly, but the little boys play football with a corpse lying nearby, and a teenage girl tries to read through the rattling of gunfire.

What differentiates the direction of the three characters lives is that Tre has a father who is present and strong and concerned. Furiouss program for Tre, as Stark delineated it, is simple: Look people straight in the eye, dont respect anyone who doesnt respect you, stay clean, work hard. His guidance insures that Tre resists the deadly temptations of the street and becomes responsible. Conversely, the two half-brothers lack attendant fathers and their lives are open to jeopardy. Rickey is a gifted athlete and his mothers favorite, but he must pass his SATs to win a scholarship. Doughboy, disliked by his mother because she hates his absent father, is a complex character whose intelligence and street eloquence do battle with a penchant for self-destruction, Bates observed. He is reduced to selling drugs and spewing anger from his mothers front porch steps.

The quote One out of every 21 black males will be murdered. Most will be shot by another black male opens the film. True to this appalling statistic, only Tre emerges at the films end, a survivor guided by his fathers teachings, ready to enroll in college and leave the neighborhood. In the end, Boyz N the Hood asks the all-important question of whether there is such a thing as changing ones fate, Maslin pointed out. If there isand Mr. Singleton holds out a powerful glimmer of hope in the storys closing momentsthen for this films young characters it hinges on the attitudes of their fathers.

Critical reaction was predominantly positive. Singleton was praised for his recreation on film of the milieu of the neighborhood, the geography of a place heretofore unexplored. Bates found it a challenging film, a disconcertingly gritty peek into a facet of life to which virtually no white audiences have been privyand that a fair number of black middle-class viewers will find alien as well. Denby praised the films nuances, how Singleton was able to depict the insane combustibility in ordinary encountersthe jostling among teenagers that ends with guns blazing. He gets the heat and sass of young women, the despair of the older ones. He presents a coherent picture of a tragic way of life.

But some critics were disenchanted with Singletons treatment of his characters. For Times Richard Corliss, the women in the film are shown as doped-up, career-obsessed, or irrelevant to the mans work of raising a son in an American war zone. Peoples Ralph Novak went even further, stating that none of the characters were realistically outlined, and that only the actors kept Singletons too-symbolic characters from turning into cardboard. But this fault, according to Stark, was not a result of Singletons inability as a writer or director, only a result of his inexperience and ambitiousness: What he needs to do is cut back on the ideological burden of his scripts. Hood is overstuffed with ideas. All are worth exploring, but not in a single film.

Film Debut Marred by Violence

The most negative publicity, however, occurred when Boyz N the Hood opened to violence in and around theaters on July 12, 1991. Shootings and knifings left two dead and more than 30 injured in incidents at about 20 theaters from Los Angeles to Chicago and Detroit. In immediate response, 21 of the 829 theaters showing the film decided to drop it. Singleton labeled this response artistic racism. He told Stevenson, I didnt create the conditions under which people shoot each other. This happens because theres a whole generation of people who are disenfranchised. Singleton elucidated this idea in an interview with Newsweeks Andrew Murr: It was the fact that a whole generation [of black men] doesnt respect themselves, which makes it easier for them to shoot each other. This is a generation of kids who dont have father figures. Theyre looking for their manhood, and they get a gun. The more of those people that get together, the higher the potential for violence. Denby concurred, citing the films purpose in depicting the useless and unwarranted violence in the neighborhood: What the gunshots mean is that a number of young men are so excited by the presence of images of gang warfare that they cannot see what the images or the context around them is actually supposed to mean.

No justifiable argument has been offered to show a causal relationship between the film and the violence that accompanied its opening. Indeed, the function of the film was not to propagate violence, but to offer a solution for its erasure. If you make a film, Singleton told Time, you have a responsibility to say something socially relevant. Stark believed that Singleton was successful in this endeavor, saying, This is a film that makes a plea for conscientious parenting. This is a film that shows self-respect and hard work as the only hope for children. This is a film that concludes with a challenge, written in bold titles across the big screen: Increase the peace.

When all the smoke cleared, the movie grossed more than $100 million. On the heels of its financial and critical success, Boyz N the Hood also earned Singleton the distinction of being the youngest person ever nominated for a best director Oscar and the first African American to receive the Oscar nod for directing.

Follow-up Film a Disappointment

Singletons sophomore project was aimed at the Girlz N the hood. I wanted to do something street, but something different, Singleton explained in Essence. With Doughboy I dealt with the insecurities of Black men. So I thought, Why not do a movie about a young sister and how all the tribulations of the brothers affect her? 1993s Poetic Justice stared Janet Jackson as Justice, a young girl who works in a beauty salon and writes poetryaward-winning writer Maya Angelou supplied the poetry for the film. The film also featured rapper Tupac Shakur as the kind mailman who has fallen for Justice.

The film opened to critical complaints of a weak story that was loosely tied together. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic remarked that the film is a steady boil of pointless bickering between run-of-the-mill young people. With Boyz being such a huge success, the $30 million earned by Poetic Justice seemed like a drop in the bucket even with all its star power.

In 1997 Higher Learning had a better showing at the box office. Much like its predecessors, Higher Learning was full of thought-provoking commentary. The film covered racial and sexual tensions, as well as self-defeating attitudes in all races on a predominantly-white campus. The characters, Richard Schickel observed in Time, are points on a rigidly conceived political spectrum. The films all star cast included rap stars Ice Cube and Busta Rhymes, and actors Omar Epps, and Michael Rapaport. The film also featured model Tyra Banks, whom Singleton had been dating since 1993.

His next release, 1997s Rosewood, told the story of the progressive black town of Rosewood, Florida. In 1923 Rosewood fell to a lynch mob of poor white residents from the nearby town of Sumner. When a white Sumner resident who had been assaulted by her lover blames the incident on a black man, she literally destroys the town and its people with her lies. Rosewood seemed like a ripe subject to paint a very provocative portrait of the America people rarely want to talk about, Singleton told Jet. Ours is a morbid history; most try to evade it. Black people dont want to remember being victims of lynching, rape, the separation of families, living under Jim Crow and all the other horrors those things entailed. And White folk dont want to remember being the perpetrators of that kind of persecution. The film starred Don Cheadle, Elise Neal, Jon Voight, Ester Rolle, and Ving Rhames.

Singleton was extremely proud of this film. He told Jet that Rosewood was one of the most worthwhile ventures I have ever embarked on. And Singleton had good reason to be proud. He once again gained critical acclaim for his concise depictions of human emotions in film.

It was during the filming of Rosewood that Singleton met and wed actress Akosua Busia, best remembered for her role as Netty in The Color Purple. The marriage was short-lived with the couple divorcing in 1997. However, the marriage did result in the birth of a daughter, Hadar, born in April of 1997.

In 1999 Singleton faced battery charges after a January altercation with the mother of one of his children Singleton has fathered five children with four women. Singletons ex-girlfriend had come to Singletons home to pick up their daughter when an argument ensued. According to one witness, a female friend of Singletons former girlfriend who had come along that day, Singleton repeatedly struck his ex-girlfriend with his fist. When the case went to court several months later, Singleton pleaded no contest and was ordered to create a short film about domestic violence.

Remade Classic Blaxpoitation Film

For his fifth film, Singleton turned to classic black cinema with a remake of Shaft (2000). The film Starred Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale, and Vanessa Williams. With any remake, there is the danger that it will not hold up in comparison to the original. Some critics felt that Singletons Shaft, was indeed inferior. Times Richard Schickel felt that Shaft lacked all the necessary attitude of the original and that Singleton had made yet another urban action piece, well enough made but not essentially different from a hundred other movies like it. Other critics, however, felt that Singleton had expertly reinvented Shaft. Robert Koehler of Variety called the film the kind of smart, entertaining product that studios yearn for in the summer season. Koehler added, This is exemplary action screenwriting that keeps characters at the forefront, so that the final confrontations and shocker twist carry the kind of emotional pull that used to be a Hollywood trademark.

In 2001, ten years after the release of his first film, Singleton returned to the hood with Baby Boy. The film was considered a companion piece to Boys N the Hood. The theme of Baby Boy, as described by Stephen Schaefer of The Boston Herald, is African American men, who call homes cribs, their buddies boys, and their women momma, resist growing up and taking adult responsibility. They want to remain baby boys. Singleton told The Boston Herald, The great thing about this movie is it offers a window, almost a mirror, and if they watch it and change their lives, they can change it.

Singleton recruited R&B star Tyrese for the lead role. The film was Tyreses acting debut, but Singleton never hesitated in his choice. Tyrese was a movie star who hadnt done a movie yet, Singleton explained in The Boston Herald. Tyrese played Jody, a jobless 20-year-old who lives with his mother. Jodys two girlfriends have each borne him a child. Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented, Although the women are property owners and breadwinners, the males are lazy thugs. Reviews for the film were mixed, with some critics offering effusive praise for the films mixture of comedic and dramatic elements, and others, such as the Hollywood Reporters Kirk Honeycutt, claiming that Singleton failed to dramatize his thematic concerns, which forces him to take refuge in speeches and gansta violence.

2001 commenced the second decade in Singletons career. And he planned to make the second decade as thought-provoking as the first. I want to keep challenging Black people, he told Ebony. I want people to have a sense of what we are as a people. I want to keep making people think. Its my responsibility.

Selected filmography

Boyz N the Hood, Columbia, 1991.

Poetic Justice, Columbia, 1993.

Higher Learning, Columbia, 1995.

Rosewood, Warner Brothers, 1997.

Shaft, Paramount, 2000.

Baby Boy, Columbia, 2001.

Sources

Periodicals

Boston Herald, June 25, 2001; June 27, 2001.

Detroit Free Press, July 12, 1991.

Detroit News, July 12, 1991; July 20, 1991.

Ebony, November 1991.

Elle, June 1991.

Essence, November 1991.

Hollywood Reporter, June 27, 2001; August 1993.

Interview, July 1991.

Jet, March 24, 1997; July 12, 1999.

New Republic, August 23, 1993.

Newsweek, July 15, 1991; July 29, 1991.

New York, July 22, 1991; July 29, 1991.

New York Times, July 12, 1991; July 14, 1991; August 2, 1991.

New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1991.

People, July 22, 1991.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 27, 2001.

Time, June 17, 1991; January 23, 1995; June 26, 2000.

Variety, June 12, 2000.

Rob Nagel, Leslie Rochelle, and Jennifer M. York

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Singleton, John 1968–

John Singleton 1968

Screenwriter, director

At a Glance

Portrait of a Young Black American

Film Debut Marred by Violence

Selected writings

Sources

John Singletons debut film, Boyz N the Hood, critically acclaimed for its realistic treatment of the black urban setting and media sensationalized for the violence that accompanied its opening, has contributed greatly to the recent revival of black films by black filmmakers. Film critic Susan Stark, writing in the Detroit News, claimed that these filmmakers are an extraordinary group of artists. They are energizing American movies on a scale not seen since World War II, when Hitler forced many of Europes greats to seek refuge in Hollywood. Whereas the black exploitation films of the 1970s (Shaft, Super Fly) offered stereotyped, violent entertainment for blacks but were often directed or produced by whites, the black films of the late 1980s and early 1990s address critical social issues indigenous to the black community. And the black filmmakers who write, direct, and produce these films, Stark described, come variously armed with passion and compassion, with fury and humor, with searing questions and prescriptions to the problems facing them and their brethren. According to Karen Brailsford in Elle magazine, these filmmakers are artists with a social conscience who record the evolution of black boys into invisible men (should they live so long), in the tradition of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

In the new black cultural renaissance this evolution is no more poignantly documented than in Boyz N the Hood. The reason is that John Singleton is a writer before he is a director. Hes the most impressive of this years debuting young black filmmakers, critic Kathy Huffhines explained in the Detroit Free Press, because he puts his anger into words, not just camera anglesinto the detailed screen-writing that makes audiences feel what he has felt. And unlike Spike Lee, whose breakthrough films like Shes Gotta Have It (1986) and School Daze (1987) heralded this recent wave of black films, Singleton probes deeper into the black social psyche, examining a more sprawling form of claustrophobia and a more adolescent angst, according to Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Although Singleton readily admits his and others indebtedness to and admiration of Lee, he justifiably emphasizes that his film was made because of his story. In this business you get hired for your vision, and your vision begins with your script, he told Karen Grigsby Bates in the New York Times Magazine. Im a writer first and I direct in order to protect my vision. Boyz is a good story, a real story, and they wanted it. Simple as that.

At a Glance

Born in 1968 in Los Angeles, CA; son of Danny Singleton (a mortgage broker) and Sheila Ward (a pharmaceutical company sales executive). Education: Received degree from the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, 1990.

Signed on with the Creative Artists Agency during second year at USC; signed three-year contract with Columbia Pictures to develop and direct films, 1990; writer and director of film Boyz N the Hood, 1991.

Awards: Three writing awards from the University of Southern California.

Addresses: Home Baldwin Hills, CA. Agent Bradford W. Smith, Creative Artists Agency, Inc., 1888 Century Park E., Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

The forceful realism of the screenplay is attributable first to Singletons growing up in south-central Los Angeles. Raised in the same type of neighborhood depicted in his film, Singleton spent his childhood years shuttling between his unmarried parents. My parents didnt have a lot of money, he told Time magazines Richard Corliss. I used to steal little stuff, like candy, toys, and Players magazines, but I never got into anything too rough. Part of the reason he stayed clean was the attention his parents paid to him, and part of that attention, which ultimately influenced his career choice, was his fathers taking him to see movies. By the time he was nine years old, Singleton decided he was going to make motion pictures. He gorged on films by Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa, John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola, Bates noted. Singleton learned from these masters, but he needed to express something that they could not. I always wanted to do a real film about what its like growing up Black, he told a reporter for Ebony. There are always stories about how Whites grow up, films like American Graffiti or Rebel Without a Cause.

The second factor behind the veracity of the screenplay is Singletons ability as a writer. While in high school, Singleton learned that the film business was controlled by screenplays. After I heard that, I knew I had to learn how to write, so I did, Corliss quoted him as saying. This focus proved valuable. After graduating from high school in 1986, Singleton was accepted to the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Televisions prestigious Filmic Writing Program. During his four-year studies there, he won three writing awards.

These achievements in writing earned Singleton a contract with the powerful Creative Artists Agency during his sophomore year at USC, and in May of 1990, his agent sent the script for Boyz N the Hood to Columbia pictures. The response was immediate: I thought Johns script had a distinctive voice and great insight, Frank Price, chairman of Columbia Pictures, said in an interview excerpted in the New York Times. Hes not just a good writer, but he has enormous self-confidence and assurance. In fact, the last time Id met someone that young with so much self-assurance was Steven Spielberg. Columbia wanted to make the picture, but at first wanted someone else to direct it. Singleton believed only he could do it. They asked me if I would consider anybody else directing it, he recalled to Interviews Steven Daly. And I said, Hell, no, Im not gonna let somebody from Idaho or Encino direct a movie about living in South Central Los Angeles. They cant come in here and cast it and go through the rewrites and know exactly what aesthetics are unique to this film.

Portrait of a Young Black American

Columbia finally agreed, giving Singleton a $7 million budget to film his powerful drama depicting the first realistic portrayal of what its like to be young, Black, and American in the 90s, according to a reporter from Ebony magazine. The film, which had its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring of 1991, follows three characters at two different stages in their lives: first at the age of 10, then at the age of 17. At the beginning of the film, Tre Styles, the protagonist, is sent by his mother, Reva, to live with his father, Furious, in hopes that the unruly boy will learn to be a man. In his new neighborhood Tre meets two half-brothers who live across the street: Rickey and Doughboy. Together, these three characters grow up in an environment where, as David Denby described it in New York magazine, all day, jets heading for LAX come in low over the small tract houses; at night, police helicopters join in the din, training down their lights. The sun shines regularly, but the little boys play football with a corpse lying nearby, and a teenage girl tries to read through the rattling of gunfire.

What differentiates the direction of the three characters lives is that Tre has a father who is present and strong and concerned. Furiouss program for Tre, as Stark delineated it, is simple: Look people straight in the eye, dont respect anyone who doesnt respect you, stay clean, work hard. His guidance insures that Tre resists the deadly temptations of the street and becomes responsible. Conversely, the two half-brothers lack attendant fathers and their lives are open to jeopardy. Rickey is a gifted athlete and his mothers favorite, but he must pass his SATs to win a scholarship. Doughboy, disliked by his mother because she hates his absent father, is a complex character whose intelligence and street eloquence do battle with a penchant for self-destruction, Bates observed. He is reduced to selling drugs and spewing anger from his mothers front porch steps.

The quote One out of every 21 black males will be murdered. Most will be shot by another black male opens the film. True to this appalling statistic, only Tre emerges at the films end, a survivor guided by his fathers teachings, ready to enroll in college and leave the neighborhood. In the end, Boyz N the Hood asks the all-important question of whether there is such a thing as changing ones fate, Maslin pointed out. If there isand Mr. Singleton holds out a powerful glimmer of hope in the storys closing momentsthen for this films young characters it hinges on the attitudes of their fathers.

Critical reaction to this American coming-of-age story told from a new, black perspective, as David Ansen described it in Newsweek, was predominantly positive. Critics lauded Singletons recreation on film of the milieu of the neighborhood, the geography of a place heretofore unexplored. Bates found it a challenging film, a disconcertingly gritty peek into a facet of life to which virtually no white audiences have been privyand that a fair number of black middle-class viewers will find alien as well. Denby praised the films nuances, how Singleton was able to depict the insane combustibility in ordinary encountersthe jostling among teenagers that ends with guns blazing. He gets the heat and sass of young women, the despair of the older ones. He presents a coherent picture of a tragic way of life.

But some critics were disenchanted with Singletons treatment of his characters. For Corliss, the women in the film are shown as doped-up, career-obsessed, or irrelevant to the mans work of raising a son in an American war zone. Peoples Ralph Novak went even further, stating that none of the characters were realistically outlined, and that only the actors kept Singletons too-symbolic characters from turning into cardboard. But this fault, according to Stark, was not a result of Singletons inability as a writer or director, only a result of his inexperience and ambitiousness: What he needs to do is cut back on the ideological burden of his scripts. Hood is overstuffed with ideas. All are worth exploring, but not in a single film.

Film Debut Marred by Violence

The most negative publicity, however, occurred when Boyz N the Hood opened to violence in and around theaters on July 12, 1991. Shootings and knifings left two dead and more than 30 injured in incidents at about 20 theaters from Los Angeles to Chicago to Detroit. In immediate response, 21 of the 829 theaters showing the film decided to drop it. Singleton labeled this response artistic racism. He told Stevenson, I didnt create the conditions under which people shoot each other. This happens because theres a whole generation of people who are disenfranchised. He elucidated this idea in an interview with Newsweek s Andrew Murr: It was the fact that a whole generation [of black men] doesnt respect themselves, which makes it easier for them to shoot each other. This is a generation of kids who dont have father figures. Theyre looking for their manhood, and they get a gun. The more of those people that get together, the higher the potential for violence. Denby concurred, citing the films purpose in depicting the useless and unwarranted violence in the neighborhood. What the gunshots mean is that a number of young men are so excited by the presence of images of gang warfare that they cannot see what the images or the context around them is actually supposed to mean.

No justifiable argument has been offered to show a causal relationship between the film and the violence that accompanied its opening. Indeed, the function of the film was not to propagate violence, but to offer a solution for its erasure. If you make a film, Singleton told Corliss, you have a responsibility to say something socially relevant. Stark believed that through Boyz N the Hood, Singleton did. This is a film that makes a plea for conscientious parenting. This is a film that shows self-respect and hard work as the only hope for children. This is a film that concludes with a challenge, written in bold titles across the big screen: Increase the peace. As he stated in an article he wrote for Essence magazine, Singleton knows of the duality of film, that it has the power to shape, change, and educate. It also has the power to bring down, exploit, and degrade. The power of Singletons debut film, Corliss recognized, belongs to the former category: BoyzN the Hood functions both as a condemnation of the world outside any big-city movie house and as an inspiration to those aspiring outsiders who would change history by filming it.

Selected writings

(And director) Boyz N the Hood, Columbia, 1991.

Sources

Detroit Free Press, July 12, 1991.

Detroit News, July 12, 1991; July 20, 1991.

Ebony, November 1991.

Elle, June 1991.

Essence, November 1991.

Interview, July 1991.

Newsweek, July 15, 1991; July 29, 1991.

New York, July 22, 1991; July 29, 1991.

New York Times, July 12, 1991; July 14, 1991; August 2, 1991.

New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1991.

People, July 22, 1991.

Time, June 17, 1991.

Rob Nagel

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"Singleton, John 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Singleton, John 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/singleton-john-1968

"Singleton, John 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/singleton-john-1968

Singleton, John

SINGLETON, John



Nationality: American. Born: John Daniel Singleton in Los Angeles, California, 6 January 1968. Education: Graduated from University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, 1990. Family: Married Akosua Busia (an actress), 12 October 1994 (divorced, 15 June 1997); children: one daughter, Hadar. Career: Director and writer; directed Michael Jackson's video "Remember the Time," 1992. Awards: Jack Nicholson Award (twice) and Robert Riskin Writing Award, University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television; New Generation Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, 1991; New York Film Critics Circle Award for best new director, 1991, and MTV Movie Award for best new filmmaker, 1992, both for Boyz N the Hood; ShoWest Award for screenwriter of the year, and Special Award for directorial debut of the year, ShoWest Convention, 1992. Office: New Deal Productions, 10202 West Washington Blvd., Metro Bldg., Room 203, Culver City, CA 90232. Agent: Creative Artists Agency, Inc., 1888 Century Park East, Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067.


Films as Director:

1991

Boyz N the Hood (Boys in the Hood) (+ sc, ro as mailman)

1993

Poetic Justice (+ sc, pr)

1995

Higher Learning (+ sc, pr)

1997

Rosewood

2000

Shaft (+ ro as bored cop with coffee cup)



Other Films:

1994

Beverly Hills Cop III (Landis) (ro as fireman)

1995

Your Studio and You (Parker) (ro as himself)

1998

Woo (exec pr)



Publications


By SINGLETON: book—

With Veronica Chambers, Poetic Justice: Film-Making South Central Style, New York, 1993.

By SINGLETON: articles—

"Introduction," in Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption ofa Town Called Rosewood, by Michael D'Orso, New York, 1996.

"Look Who's Talking" (interview), in Interview (New York), June 1996.


On SINGLETON: articles—

Essay in Karl Schanzer and Thomas Lee Wright, AmericanScreenwriters, New York, 1993.

Greene, R., "Higher Ground," in Boxoffice (Chicago), vol. 131, January 1995.

Dauphin, G., "Ashes and Embers," in Village Voice (New York), 21 May 1996.

Stevens, J., "John Singleton," in DGA (Los Angeles), vol. 21, no. 5–6, 1996–1997.

"The Complicated Men," in Vanity Fair, April 2000.


* * *

John Singleton, who grew up on the fringes of the black ghetto in South Central Los Angeles, graduated from the prestigious film school at the University of Southern California to begin his career at an interesting moment in Hollywood history. For the early 1990s witnessed, albeit on a small scale, a revisionist revival of the blaxploitation movement that had so energized Hollywood cinema in the 1970s with its anti-establishment celebration of African-American ghetto culture. Blaxploitation classics such as Superfly, The Mack, and Coffy had sometimes glorified the drug dealing, organized crime, and sexual promiscuity they ostensibly condemned, thereby providing a weak critique at best of a dysfunctional culture in the process of being destroyed by middle-class flight, decaying municipal infrastructures, and systemic racism. The spectacularly successful New Jack City, a 1991 film directed by Mario Van Peebles, can be similarly faulted for an exploitative political rhetoric. It is hardly remarkable, therefore, that the four-wall exhibition of New Jack City proved dangerous for theatergoers and theater owners alike. Gang-bangers in attendance reaffirmed their commitment to the lawless lifestyle appealingly depicted on the screen by, in part, shooting up the place and each other.

Violence also greeted the initial screenings of John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood, but this 23-year-old wunderkind had not authored and directed a film that could be blamed for anything more than depicting, accurately and movingly, the coming to manhood of a group of young black men in South Central. Gang life, and the endemic violence and police reaction it fosters, is hardly romanticized in the film, but pointlessly destroys the lives of some. Tre Styles is the exception to this iron rule. He is the only one of the homeboys lucky enough to benefit from a father's correction and instruction. With his father's example providing an alternative, Tre chooses to save himself by refusing to go along on a vengeance-prompted drive-by. Like his girlfriend, brought up strictly by a respectable Catholic family, Tre escapes the 'hood for the blessings of a college education. Thus, the film's ideological center is Tre's father, the aptly named Furious Styles, who advocates a rigorous program of self-improvement and self-control (occasionally tinged by Farrakhanesque paranoia) for both his son and community.

Didactic and overly conventional at times, Boyz N the Hood offers more than a political program. The film is also a portrait in depth, both loving and critical, of a community in crisis, where almost no one prospers and where the line between the good and the bad is almost impossible to draw. A self-made entrepreneur who makes the most of his hard work, Furious Styles bequeaths to his son—and the film's audience—hope for the future that depends on individual effort rather than institutional reform. It is notable in this regard that Tre's future looks positive precisely because he has left behind the dangerous South Central neighborhood where he grows up. With this film, John Singleton established himself as a filmmaker with commitment as well as cinematic talent. Like Spike Lee's Crooklyn, Boyz N the Hood adroitly negotiates between commercial demands for engaging melodrama and the director's desire to deliver a timely message. It was certainly an auspicious debut.

None of Singleton's next three films has met this very high standard of accomplishment. Poetic Justice is more or less a Janet Jackson vehicle, with the popular singer playing a homegirl from South Central who takes to the road in an attempt to assuage the pain of a broken heart and escape the violence of her neighborhood. In this instance, Singleton's script suffers from a lack of direction and narrative energy; the result is somewhat unaffecting soap opera with the beautician heroine, who also writes poetry, hooking up with a mailman and his daughter after the tragic killing of her boyfriend. The story finds little of interest to do with the characters-driven-together-by-fortune structure that it initially develops. Higher Learning, also scripted by the director, suffers from similar problems. It treats racial and gender tensions at the mythical Columbus U., which is proposed as a metonymy for American society. Unfortunately, Singleton's screenplay creates characters who are neither particularly plausible nor attractive, and the narrative in which they are plunged is needlessly fragmented and uninvolving. As in Boyz, Singleton puts an African-American father figure at the ideological center of the story, though this character, a rather aloof and prissy professor of political science, has no real depth. In Rosewood, Singleton wisely secured the services of a competent screenwriter, Gregory Poirier. But this at times exciting and moving re-creation of an historical event, an anti-black pogrom in a 1920s Florida small town, still suffers from structural problems: too many main characters; too much time and energy devoted to setting up the central actions the film will treat; too much of an emphasis on emotions handled with the predictable sentimentality of soap opera. In this film, Singleton shows flashes of directorial brilliance, and it is undoubtedly an improvement on its two immediate pedecessors. Unfortunately, Rosewood demonstrates that as the 1990s ended Singleton had still proven unable to move effectively beyond the authentic recreations of his adolescent experience that made Boyz such a critical and popular success.

—R. Barton Palmer

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"Singleton, John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Singleton, John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/singleton-john