Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.
Konichiwa, pardner. I am the Wild West Samurai.
Let’s kick this off by going way back to the year 1991.
It was a pretty fucked up year, by several standards. The United States invaded Iraq, won, left, and didn’t go back for 12 years. Soooo… it qualifies as a victory like how a premature ejaculation qualifies as getting laid, only to find your one-night stand at your doorstep years later. With a teenager in tow. It was also a year of profound pop-culture fuck-ups. Axl Rose showed how much of an ass he was by attacking a fan at one of his concerts. Three goats were sacrificed so that Ed Sheeran could be born.
Sorry. Was I thinking out loud? Anyway, 1991 was also the year Bryan Adams’ song “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” made it to number one on the Billboard charts – for seven godforsaken weeks in a row. Like Kevin Costner’s acting in the film the song was written for, it was phoned in, soulless, and as riveting as listening to paint dry on a white picket fence. Outside a bland white house. With a bland white family eating bland whitebread sandwiches inside – with mayonnaise on top. And it won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
Dark times, people. Dark times.
Had it not been for the brass pipes on Angela Lansbury and her vocal work on the song “Beauty and the Beast,” done in one take – yes, this was done in one take – Adams might have won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Original Song. But he didn’t. The Fire Lord was stopped. Zelda was rescued. Middle-earth was saved. And that’s all that matters.
1991 wasn’t all bad, though. The Soviet Union dissolved, the Berlin Wall came all the way down, and the Scorpions released a bitchin’ single about it.
Nirvana released their magnum opus Nevermind and their single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” not only topped the Billboard charts the next year, it ushered in a wave of grunge music that defined the ’90s. A Tribe Called Quest released their album The Low End Theory the same day as Nevermind, and proceeded to do for alternative hip-hop what Nevermind did for alternative rock. Prince released Diamonds and Pearls, with “Cream” as his last number-one single. A little-known rapper named Tupac Shakur kicked off his solo career with the release of 2Pacalypse Now, with the promise of more spit to come. Michael Jackson released Dangerous, his last good album (fight me). Ice Cube went from a rap career to starting his film career. Whitney Houston sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl, proceeding to blow the minds of 80 million people and holy fucking shit, I feel old. At least one person from all these acts is now dead: Phife Dawg, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Whitney, Michael, Prince…
Well… except Ice Cube. He’s still around and actually done pretty well for himself: Four kids, been married the equivalent of 4,380 Britney Spears-length marriages, and has never had a rap sheet in his life. Props, man, props. And that film career of his? That started with a role in Boyz N The Hood, written and directed by a young and unknown John Singleton. After mentioning The Homesteader as the first known film ever made with an all-black cast and crew, it only made sense to start with another first. At the 1992 Oscars, John Singleton was the first African-American to be nominated for Best Director. What caught my attention when I’d first read about the film was that in 2002, it was selected for preservation as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. I remember quirking an eyebrow at that.
So, is it that good?
With an alien breathing down my neck to review this, do I have a choic-?
Right, right! Yes! This is Boyz N The Hood.
So, the movie opens up over the Columbia Pictures logo and credits on a black screen, all while we hear a voiceover of some young guys dropping more F-bombs than Dennis Hopper on hop in a Tom Hooper film. We hear the sounds of machine guns and screams, followed by police sirens, helicopters flying, and a little boy crying, “They shot my brother! They shot my brother!”
You know those subtle movies with a message? Like where Morgan Freeman walks out of a boardinghouse full of hope and says, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’. That’s goddamn right.” Yeah, this is that other kind of movie. The kind where Morgan Freeman yells at a crying kid to kill himself if he can’t quit drugs… because that would be soooo effective in real life. All’s I’m saying is, this is not a subtle movie. And movies that beat you over the head with a message tend to be about as overbearing as your mother breaking the ice at Shabbat to ask when you’re going to settle down with a nice Jewish girl. I DO WHAT I WANT, MOM!!
The point is, audiences don’t like being preached to. However, here… it actually works.
Anyway, we meet our protagonist Tre (played by Desi Hines II) on his way to school in…
Tre walks to school with some friends, talking about homework and people they know who’ve been shot. Yes, those topics go together like Rogue and a crowded nudist beach for mutants, but the kids’ performances are so natural, with a police helicopter flying overhead, you really buy that they would casually switch topics like that and not miss a beat. Then one of the boys asks if the other kids want to “see somethin’.”
Also, wait! Is that a Hello Kitty sticker on that binder? Those were around back in ’84? Anywho, the kids decide to follow Mr. Show-and-Tell into an alley.
Like I said. Not a subtle movie. In fact, our next camera shot practically slams another heavyhanded message onto the screen, backed by dramatic gunshot sound effects.
Hmmm… I’m getting the impression the director’s trying to tell us something here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Eh, I’m sure someone will figure it out. The boy who brought everyone into the alley even flips the Reagan poster the bird. Anywho, the kids-
Ah, Jesus Tapdancing Christ. Look, it’s a long, complicated thing about the Southern strategy, the War on Drugs, supporting Apartheid. I don’t have time to go into it if you want me to finish this review, but basically, only 14% of black voters supported Reagan in the 1980 election and even fewer (9%) supported him in the 1984 election. If I were a gambling man, I’d say the director was as supportive of Reagan as a chicken is of an ax.
Among other things. Anywho, the kids find a crime scene cordoned off by police tape, displaying both a morbid curiosity at the sight of the bullet holes in the wall and blood on the pavement. We dissolve to Tre’s classroom, where we see children’s drawings of bloody shootings and L.A.P.D. helicopters while a white teacher drones on about the unity of Pilgrims and indigenous peoples during the first Thanksgiving. Tre makes a crack about the Pilgrims, calling them “the penguins.” The teacher gets mad and demands Tre teach the class for a bit, because the penguins are a majestic and proud race and no one mocks them in front of Miss Stickupherass, dammit!
Tre takes this opportunity to talk to the class about the continent of Africa, saying that because the oldest human fossils found were located in Africa, that means everyone in the classroom came from Africa. One of the boys retorts, “I ain’t from Africa! I’m from Crenshaw Mafia!” Tre slides over cooler than Ice-T in ice skates on ice and says, “Like it or not, you’re from Africa.”
The boy calls Tre an “African booty-scratcher”… Ummm, burn? Zing? Tre threatens to kick the kid’s ass. The kid threatens to have his brother shoot Tre. Tre gives the boy shit for not having a father. What is the teacher doing during all this? Asking the boys to calm down by counting to ten! I’m pretty sure we’re past that point, lady! A fight ensues and we cut to the next scene where Tre’s walking home from school, right past a fight between a bunch of guys rolling bones on the sidewalk. Over this, we hear the teacher talking to Tre’s mother Reva (played by the biopic goddess herself, Angela Bassett) on the phone, saying Tre is intelligent but has a bad temper.
… Bad temper? For what?! Thwacking some dipshit upside the head with a yardstick for saying – and I quote – “I’ll get my brother to shoot you in the face!” And this fucking teacher was just standing there like a useless goddamn hippie!
And while talking to Reva, does the teacher suggest Tre’s environment might have something to do with his “temper?” Hoohoohoo! Nope! She asks if Tre’s having problems at home by insinuating Reva is an unemployed, uneducated baby-mama.
Worst. Teacher. Ever.
When Reva mentions Tre’s going to move to his father’s house, the teacher’s so shocked, she practically gives up the ghost. “His father?!” Reva gets in a nice dig before she hangs up. “Yes, his father. Or did you think we made babies by ourselves?”
So, Reva scolds Tre and whips out a written contract saying Tre would live with his father if- Waaaait. Parents make contracts with their kids to behave? Since when?
So, as per the… contract thingy with her son, Tre’s mother takes her son for a drive and a loving but stern lecture past a fair amount of liquor stores throughout South Central all the way to his father’s house. Tre’s father Furious is played by Laurence Fishburne, and while Tre takes his luggage into the house, Furious gets into the car to ask Reva why she’s letting Tre live with him.
Reva tells him, “Well, it’s like you told me. I can’t teach him how to be a man. That’s your job.” Really? How hard can that be? Teach him to pee standing up, make sure he shoots straight into the bowl, and he’s golden (pun intended).
Okay, all jokes aside, the dialogue in this is really damn good. John Singleton was nominated for the 1992 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and it shows. Although, as of this writing, no black writer has won that award, let alone been nominated for it since.
We meet Tre’s friends, two brothers called Doughboy (Baha Jackson) and Ricky (Donovan McCrary). Right off the bat, we get a sense of their characters. Ricky’s practicing with a football. Doughboy’s overweight – shocking, with a nickname like that. It later gets explained Ricky and Doughboy have different fathers. Furious offers to pay Doughboy and another kid to sweep the leaves on his front lawn, but they refuse, so Furious makes his son Tre do it. Doughboy goes skateboarding with the other kid, but not before teasing Tre by calling him his dad’s slave. “Who do he think you is? Kunta Kinte?” Tre does an impressive job with sweeping up the leaves, although…
Did… Furious dump a bunch of leaves on the lawn before Tre arrived just to have him sweep them up? Dick move, dad. In any case, Tre clearly resents the chore. Later, Furious lays down more chores for Tre to do, and Tre asks him what he does around the house. Not to have his authority challenged by his offspring, Furious proceeds to furiously whoop that little upstart’s ass- orrrr, talk to him like a reasonable adult. He explains that his responsibilities are paying the bills and providing for Tre, so he’s not being hard on Tre. He’s trying to teach him responsibility. “Your friends across the street? They don’t have anybody to show them how to do that. They don’t. And you’re gonna see how they end up, too.”
So, later that night, a burglar quietly breaks into the house. He has no name, so I’ll just call him Fast. It’s a genuinely suspenseful scene. There’s this grimy-sounding saxophone like out of a noir playing over the whole thing. There’s cuts of dripping water, Tre going to the bathroom, Furious getting out his gun and firing it at the burglar.
Shut up. My review. So, there’s just one nitpick I have about this scene…
PFFFFT! Wait! What?? Those holes are almost as big as Fishburne’s head. He’s firing a revolver, not a potato gun! What, was he firing dum-dums?
Anyway, the burglar escapes. Furious calls the police and two cops (one black, one white) take almost an hour to show up. Their helpfulness can be gauged by their refusal to make a report because nothing was stolen and by one line from this asshole:
Fun fact: Apparently, Officer McAsshole was based on a real cop the director encountered in his youth. Tre wakes up the next morning to go hang out with his friends. In a clear homage to the 1986 film Stand By Me, one of the boys takes his friends to go and look at a dead body purely out of curiosity. Not just a mostly cleaned up crime scene like before. An actual body in the bushes. It’s never explained how long the body’s been there or why it’s been lying there long enough for one of the boys to know its location, then go home, then hang out with his friends, and then lead them back to the body’s location. Not one person called 9-1-1 in that entire time to report a dead body? And if they had, are the police really so incompetent that even with dead bodies, they like to take their sweet-ass time? Yes, the movie already established beat cops are lazy enough to take an hour to respond to a burglary call, but fucking detectives?
We get a slice-of-life bit where a bunch of Watts Crips gang members hanging out and drinking come over and the leader tells Ricky to throw his football to him. Because, yeah, ganging up on a bunch of ten-year-olds is such a tough thing to do. The older boys’ douchebag leader reassures Ricky that he won’t steal the football by flashing a wad of Benjamins. “I got enough money to buy me a hundred balls.”
Ricky throws the ball, and of fucking course the Crips take the ball and toss it back and forth to each other. Doughboy chews Ricky out for bringing the ball in the first place, but does step to the leader… for about five seconds. Then he gets his ass kicked. We do get a heartwarming moment when the kids are walking away where one of the Crips feels bad and tosses the ball back to Ricky. It’s short and simple, but endearing. Tre later goes to the beach with his dad to go fishing. Again, short but very effective. Furious talks to Tre about respect, about friends he had growing up who’d become robbers or murderers, about fighting in Vietnam to provide for Reva when she was pregnant with Tre, about his disillusionment with the military as a black man serving in it, and he even gives Tre the sex talk. No abstinence-only, purity ring bullshit here.
Rewatching the film, I think Fishburne is the best part of this movie. Had the movie just focused on Tre and his friends, it would’ve been a similar formula we always see with coming-of-age stories about troubled youth. But Fishburne exudes an authoritative but warm confidence that’s hard to pull off. He’s the Mufasa. He’s the father many of us wish we had. And when he has a point to make, you pay attention. In a lot of ways, Furious and his relationship with his son is what makes the heart of this movie. Fishburne especially understood the importance of this particular role in his long career when a 16-year-old boy who’d seen the movie tried telling Fishburne how much Furious’ character meant to him: “That basically with this role, you’ve become the father to a generation of fatherless boys.” They drive home, jamming to “O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps in the car, only to find Doughboy being handcuffed and put in a police car for stealing.
The movie cuts seven years later to a barbecue celebrating Doughboy’s release from prison. Doughboy’s now played as an adult by Ice Cube in his first acting role, and he does a great job for his first acting gig. Ricky (played by Morris Chestnut) now has a toddler with a girlfriend named Shanice (Alysia Rogers). Ricky’s and Doughboy’s mother (Tyra Ferrell) is hosting the barbecue, and in walks…
Good God, Cuba. You’re making Steve Urkel and his damn suspenders look cool. Along with Cuba playing Tre, we have Tre’s love interest Brandi played by Nia Long. There’s a subplot where Tre reeeeeeaaaaally wants to get in her pants, but Brandi’s keeping those legs shut tighter than Bellatrix Lestrange’s bank vault. In a later scene, she says she wants to wait until marriage because she’s Catholic… Like that’s ever stopped any guy before. Tre goes home with leftovers for his dad, rescues a toddler wandering in the street, returns her to her crack-addicted mother who offers to give Tre a blowjob for some rock, has a shotgun pointed at him by a couple Bloods in a car wanting to scare him for shits and giggles, and asks his dad to give him a haircut.
By the way, Furious is seen exercising his hand with baoding balls a couple times in the film. In 1991, Massive Attack released a music video for their song “Unfinished Sympathy” that opens up with a guy in South Central exercising his hand with the same item. Were… these a thing at the time? Anyway, while Tre and Furious are talking, Tre confesses that he’s lost his virginity. This culminates in a really weird flashback, of sorts. Tre is essentially regaling his dad with the story of his sexual conquest. It’s fine…
Seriously, what the fuck, movie?! Cuba and the – The- No! No no no no! Just-Just… NO! I mean, God! Can you imagine Cuba Gooding, Jr. narrating erotica?
Furious is pissed that Tre didn’t use a condom. Later, Tre is driving with Ricky when he admits his deepest, darkest secret: he made the whole story up. He’s still a virgin… rendering the previous flashback… entirely pointless.
My ears and eyes bled… for no reason.
Later that night, there’s a really suspenseful scene where a car pulls slooowly up to Doughboy’s and Ricky’s house, eerily reminding us of the dickholes with a shotgun from earlier… but it turns out it’s just a guy from a university there to meet Ricky. He tells Ricky that while he’s a great football player, it won’t amount to much unless he can pass the Scholastic Assessment Test. Ricky and Tre take the SATs together, and they go to visit Furious, who apparently works in real estate. Furious lets them know exactly what he thinks of standardized testing.
This argument is hardly without merit. One famous example of cultural bias from the SATs was an oarsman-regatta analogy question (now no longer used), which relied on the test-taker’s familiarity with the sport of rowing crew.
This discussion leads to one of the best scenes in the film. Furious takes Tre and Ricky to a billboard advertising cash offers for undesirable housing and explains gentrification and institutional racism to them. Anyone unfamiliar with the topics can get a CliffsNotes-style crash course on them using just this scene. Furious runs the gamut from how racism affects property values to the importance of black people monetarily investing in their communities to how the crack epidemic didn’t originate in black communities to the plight of black men killing each other.
There is so much subtext dropped in just that one line. While it might seem like Furious is putting on a tinfoil hat by blaming the black community’s problems on some unnamed “they” or “them,” he’s really talking about sociological forces in general. Could he be talking about the U.S. government pumping drugs into black communities? Maybe. Could he be talking about Newport cigarettes being pushed on black children in the 1950s? Perhaps. Could he be talking about immigrants owning a large share of businesses in black communities, from liquor stores to convenience stores? Possibly. The point, as Furious sees it, is that the whole world is using black people as their stepstool, so why not build ladders rather than fight each other? It’s a very powerful scene.
I suppose if I had one nitpick about this scene, I have to wonder why everyone just stops what they’re doing to walk up and listen to this random guy they don’t even know preach.
Ricky and Tre go to meet up with Doughboy at a party. One of Doughboy’s friends criticizes him for taking God’s name in vain. Here, we see probably the one instance of a black atheist in American film… that’s actually treated seriously. Doughboy doesn’t get any condemnation from other characters for not believing in God. It’s just how he sees things, given his experience. “There ain’t no God. Okay, if there was a God, why he be letting motherfuckers get smoked every night? Babies and little kids. You tell me that.” We also get to see one of Doughboy’s friends played by Regina King chewing the scenery like a boss, arguing God might be female.
The party doesn’t last when everyone splits because some rivals Doughboy pissed off for calling one of their girlfriends a “bitch” start firing into the air.
Everyone scatters, but Tre and Ricky get pulled over by police. We briefly cut to Brandi doing her homework, only for her to jump when she hears gunshots outside. Coincidentally, the cops frisking Ricky and Tre are the same two cops who responded to Furious’ 9-1-1 call seven years earlier – including Officer McAsshole. When Tre talks back, Officer McAsshole promotes himself to Officer Fuckface when he presses his loaded gun under Tre’s chin.
Rather than make the overtly bigoted cop the white one, John Singleton chose the less obvious route to make a larger point about racism’s ugly cousin: internalized racism. Maybe the white cop is a bigot and he’s just on one of his good days. After all, he does absolutely jack shit to stop his partner from doing this. But that image of a black cop calling another black person a racial slur with that much venom in his voice while pressing a gun to his victim’s throat and gloating about getting away with murder… That shit is fucking terrifying, and also tragic. In what world with cops like this, still on the job after seven years of disrespecting and threatening the people they’re sworn to protect and serve, can it honestly be said the problem with gangs gets better rather than worse? This… is some heavy shit.
The officers let Tre and Ricky go. Tre goes to Brandi’s house, and completely breaks down, talking about how tired he is of living in a violent neighborhood while punching the air. Brandi comforts him, letting him know it’s okay for him to cry in front of her, and then the crooning sexy-time music starts playing, they start kissing, and Harry Potter has officially broken into Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault.
This is followed by another really well-written scene at a fancy restaurant where Furious and Reva discuss Tre’s apparent decision to move in with Brandi when he goes to college. Reva thinks it’s a bad idea, but Furious tells her to stop mothering Tre and trust that he’s responsible enough to make his own decisions. Reva still gets in the last word, of course, reminding Furious they still can act like parents and guide Tre’s decisions, regardless of how adult he is.
Back on Brenda’s front porch, Doughboy is hanging out with his friends when Doughboy’s gang rivals from the other night roll up. Doughboy calls them out.
Tre shows up just as Ricky is being sent to the corner store for some cornmeal, after watching an army recruitment ad on TV. Ricky’s particularly seduced by the promise of money for college and providing for his girlfriend and son. Tre later tries dissuading Ricky from joining the army, saying, “My daddy told me a black man has got no business – no place – in a white man’s army.”
Ricky tries shoving off the store errand on Doughboy, and this escalates into a fight between both brothers on the front lawn. Tre tries breaking up the fight, shouting, “Y’all are brothers! You shouldn’t be fighting each other!”
Brenda slaps Doughboy in the face and checks to see if Ricky’s okay. Hmmm… Kind of seeing Doughboy’s point when he calls Ricky a “momma’s boy” during the fight. A postal worker hands Brenda Ricky’s SAT results just after Ricky’s left. So, Ricky and Tre go to the store and while Ricky’s scratching off a lottery ticket, who shows up?
Tre and Ricky run into an alley and manage to lose their pursuers, until…
What are you doing?! HOLD IT IN! People are trying to kill you!!
After cutting briefly to Doughboy and his gang getting in the car to find Ricky and Tre – because Doughboy’s got spider-sense now – we get back to the alley after Ricky’s finished looking out for number one. Apparently, that last bad decision had to be compounded with an encore. Know what it is? I’ll give you a hint.
Yes. Ricky is doing the EXACT. SAME. SHIT. We. Mock. White. People. For. Doing. In. Horror. Movies. All. The. Damn. Time. He’s telling Tre they should split up, because…
Immediately after Tre agrees to this ingenious plan, Ricky is strolling toward one end of the alley while still scratching off his damn lottery ticket. What the hell happened to you, Ricky?! It’s like ever since you watched that commercial, you downed a bottle of stupid pills and…
Oh, my God. The commercial.
Motherfucker! You brainwashed Ricky!
My God. What did you do, you diabolical bastard?!
WHAT DID YOU DO?!
So, yes, this leads to the dramatic climax of the film where the gang in the car finds Ricky and guns him down. For a lot of people – myself included – this was a real tearjerker.
Doughboy and company arrive too late, finding Tre cradling Ricky in his arms.
I don’t even have any jokes right now. Despite the stupid decisions made previously to this scene, this is genuinely heartbreaking, and a testament to Cuba’s skill as an actor. Hell, everyone gives an emotionally raw performance over the next few minutes-
Wait. What’re they doing?
Ohhh! Well, obviously, they’re taking Ricky to a hospit-
Y-You can’t be serious. Excuse me, I’m sorry. WHAT?! What are you doing?!
What is the logic- What the- What is the thought process behind this?! Yes, it’s really sad Ricky died, and the emotions from every actor and actress here would have anyone in a theatre crying buckets of tears… but this scene makes NO FUCKING SENSE! Hell, when Ricky’s mother, son, and girlfriend all cry over his body, Doughboy tries to take the toddler away.
… THEN WHY DID YOU BRING HIS BODY IN THE HOUSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
That’s like telling a little girl her kitten died getting tangled in a barbed-wire fence, showing her the body, and then going, “Oh, whoops. You weren’t supposed to see that.” Too goddamn little, too goddamn late, asshole!
Tre goes home to get his dad’s gun for revenge. Furious comes home just as Tre’s about to leave, and he tries to stop his son from killing someone or getting himself killed.
Seriously, who the hell won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1992?
Despite Furious’ attempts to dissuade him, Tre sneaks out to get revenge with Doughboy anyway, leaving his father behind to furiously play with his balls.
I don’t think I’ve praised the music in this film quite enough, but it’s this very effective blend of jazz music and ’80s-style synthesizer. Stanley Clarke composed the score for this film. He’s composed music for the show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and other John Singleton films such as Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. Clarke brings this gritty noir style to every scene that perfectly accompanies the characters’ turmoil, particularly Tre’s as the film cuts back and forth between his hesitation and his father’s anxiety.
Tre changes his mind, so Doughboy drops him off before continuing the hunt. While they’re still searching for the guys that killed Ricky, we cut back to Brenda reading Ricky’s SAT scores while Ricky’s girlfriend and son are still grieving.
Fuck. When this movie wants to gut-punch you, it really hurts. This is just really fucking sad when you take in the scope of this tragedy. Ricky passed his SATs. Meaning he didn’t have to necessarily join the army to provide for his family. Meaning he could have gone to college. Meaning… a lot of things that will never be. Shanice will have to raise that boy on her own. Brenda might be willing to pitch in. But then the movie’s theme about boys growing up without fathers and locked on courses of self-destruction rears its ugly head. Ricky’s son is going to grow up without a father. And the cycle continues…
When Doughboy and his crew find the guys that killed Ricky, they’re all eating burgers at a restaurant. In keeping with John Singleton’s humanizing touch, he moves the camera around these gangsters while they’re talking about girlfriends and haircuts. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been so easy to depict these guys as either sniveling cowards or psychopaths. But he doesn’t. He opts to portray them as human beings.
Doughboy drives up and his friend Monster mows the guys down with an assault rifle from the back seat. One dies instantly, while the other two are injured. Doughboy stops the car and shoots one of the rival gangsters in the back as he’s trying to crawl away. This isn’t some glamorized shootout. These are merciless executions. So, while Doughboy’s friends are shouting at him to get back in the car and drive away, he ignores them to make personally sure all three of these men are dead. He even hesitates when the third one shouts that he wasn’t the one that shot Ricky… but then shoots him anyway. Despite the three men obviously being complicit in murder, the film still refuses to say their lives don’t matter and that their deaths were just. It’s evident these guys are still people, little different from Doughboy, Ricky, or Tre. So, Doughboy isn’t shooting bad guys, he’s shooting people just like him. In a sense, he’s shooting himself. This really drives home the point of the self-destructive nature of violence, even when it’s seemingly justified. In 1992, another movie with similar meditations on violence came out. It was a Western directed by Clint Eastwood and titled Unforgiven, and I’m reminded of a line Eastwood says to comfort a young man who’s killed someone for the first time in his life.
A trail of bullets, four people dead, mothers without sons, kids without fathers…
All because Doughboy called some guy’s girlfriend a “bitch.”
Tre returns home, and Furious doesn’t say a damn word to him.
Is he angry? Relieved? Whatever he’s feeling, the point is only that Tre knows and understands.
Tre wakes up the next morning to find Doughboy wandering out of the house and drinking. While Cuba and Fishburne and Bassett and Chestnut have all had what I call their Big Moments in this film, Ice Cube hasn’t really had that Big Moment. Until this monologue of despair. He talks about waking up early to a television news report about wars in foreign countries, and being baffled by it. And goddamn, if he doesn’t nail that shit like an Olympic gymnast.
Before Doughboy goes home, Tre reminds him he still has one brother left.
Shit. Got something in my eye…
So, that was Boyz N The Hood.
Does it have its share of problems? Yes, there are events and motivations in the story and characters that don’t make a lick of sense if you examine them closely. Does that mean it’s not as great as people say it is? Hell, no. While certain moments could have been more adherent to logic, that’s not what John Singleton was going for. He didn’t just want his audience to see what it was like being black in the hood. He wanted his audience to feel what it was like being black in the hood. It’s a general rule in filmmaking that you can’t hold fast to logic and expect to get an emotional rise out of people. Take this for example: Could Singleton have shown Ricky’s family grieving in a morgue rather than having his body brought into the house? Sure… but it probably wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact. Ricky’s body in the house and his family’s immediate reaction is devastating.
Singleton wanted the immediacy, the urgency of the moment to grab us by the lapels and shake us. That’s what this movie is from the get-go, from that opening shot of the STOP sign. It’s a sledgehammer. Sometimes, you don’t know why it’s there, but when it hits you, the impact leaves you breathless.
And at risk of waxing political, in this modern environment where every demand for institutional accountability by black activists is met with retorts of “What about black-on-black crime,” let this film serve as a reminder: Black people have already been saying that shit for years, and been saying it better.
Before Black Lives Matter and the backlash against it even existed, there was this little film from 1991, demanding we all increase the peace.
RATING: See it in theatres – 5 out of 5.
Coming up on December 15th, 2016:
F. Gary Gray’s 1995 film Friday.