Boyz n the Hood (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Smart but quick-tempered Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II) had gotten into another fight at school. Reva (Angela Bassett), Tre’s mother, thought it would be a good idea for him to live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), in South Central Los Angeles while she finished her Master’s degree. Although Reva and Furious lived separately for unstated reasons, she was convinced that Furious would be able to teach his son, despite living in crime- and poverty-stricken neighborhood, what it meant to be a man. Written and directed by John Singleton, “Boyz n the Hood” is an excellent film for the family, especially young people from self-destructive families or neighborhoods who want to seek an alternative and go after what they want out of life, whether it be a fancy career or as simple as preserving one’s life because it’s too valuable a thing to waste. You might think I’m crazy for considering this as a family film because the picture was more than welcoming in showing drugs, sex, and violence. But that’s what I loved about it. Its defiance to sugarcoat reality, by highlighting the effects of drugs, sex, and violence, made it an efficient and honest portrayal of a life that was and, sadly, still. The script brimmed with optimism. It underlined the importance of parents and their role in shaping their child. The series of interactions between Furious and Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. as a high school senior) were at times sensitive, occasionally amusing, and consistently realistic. Life lessons were imparted but they were never hammy. The effects of the parenting flew under the radar until the key moments when we were forced to wonder if what Furious taught his son were enough for the teenager to feel secure about himself and make decisions for himself. I appreciated that parenting was portrayed like a map and it was up to the child to notice certain landmarks and choose which lines to traverse. Movies with less vision, ambition, and specific voice had proven that it’s too easy to get it wrong. By focusing on choices, the message was clear: there’s more to life than shooting people, making others feel bad about themselves, becoming unplanned parents, and drowning oneself in booze and drugs. The picture respected its African-American characters. Although a lot of them were jive-talking, the characters weren’t written sloppily. They had motivations. Ricky (Morris Chestnut), Tre’s best friend, wanted to get a football scholarship so he could go to college and provide for his family. A lot of us could easily relate to the reasons behind his drive. More importantly, some of their motivations may seem empty to us. One of many reasons was the fact that most of us never had or will never have the experience to live in a similar environment as them. Singleton’s direction proved critical because he had a way of placing and moving the camera so that we could at least get a sense of where the characters were coming from each time they were given a chance to speak. For instance, Doughboy (Ice Cube) had been in and out of jail. He hung out with his crew with not much of a desire to break out of their habits. By providing several sequences as they chatted while playing video games on the couch, gambling in the backyard, and relaxing on the patio, we could surmise that individually they felt they had nothing but as a group they felt they had a form of brotherhood. “Boyz n the Hood” was also about responsibility and what it entails. Just because you’re from a less than desirable background, it doesn’t mean that you’re helpless or that you’re powerless to change the course of your own life as well as those around you. The scary thing is that anyone can, for better or worse.