Remembering John Singleton, 1968-2019

by Philip Berk April 30, 2019
Writer and director John Singleton

hfpa archives

In 1991 Frank Price was head of Columbia Pictures before it was known as Sony. Price had risen from the ranks of writer and TV executive to became a very hands-on studio head.

It was he who in the midst of last-minute qualification for year-end awards invited HFPA journalists to his sumptuous home for the purpose of introducing us to a new talent who he believed would go places.

His name was John Singleton and the film was Boyz ’n the Hood. At that first press conference, he already exuded the confidence of a seasoned director. Boyz ’n the Hood did for LA filming, what Spike Lee had earlier done for New York.

Unfortunately, John never equaled that early success but that was not for lack of trying. He followed Boyz with another personal project, Poetic Justice but other than introducing Janet Jackson to the screen it failed to attract either critical or public acceptance.

But that never stopped John from working consistently for the next 30 years. His early films all capitalized on his inner-city experiences, including Higher Learning, and served to introduce a slew of African American actors, including Ice Cube, this year’s best supporting actress Golden Globe winner Regina King, Morris Chestnut, future Golden Globe nominee and Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr., Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson, as well as future music stars (besides Janet Jackson) the late Tupac Shakur and Tyrese Gibson.

His last personal project Rosewood, a historical tragedy failed to win critical approval. And after that, he became a director for hire. Among his high profile films, there was 2 Fast, 2 Furious. But he will always be remembered for Boyz ’n the Hood which at its first showing in Los Angeles was marred by a killing in an inner city theatre.

At the HFPA press conference, he was asked to explain it. “(The) killing that happened on opening night had a lot to do with the condition of America right now. America is a country under siege with itself. Problems that we have in terms of illiteracy poverty exist and it is unfair to pin that incident on the film and not on the actual condition itself.” 

The father in the film played by Laurence Fishburne was one of the first positive portrayals of an African American father. He wrote the character as a tribute to his own father and wanted him to be the anchor of the film.

“The catalyst for the film was when I went from living with my mother to living with my father. He gave me focus, he gave me direction,” he stated. When asked what his responsibility as a filmmaker to the African American community would be, he answered to tell stories, “what’s in my heart.”

In 2002 Boyz N the Hood was inducted into the National Film Registry. All of Los Angeles mourns John’s tragic and untimely death.