Boyz n the Hood

Synopsis: BOYZ N THE HOOD is the critically acclaimed story of three friends growing up in a South Central Los Angeles neighbourhood. It is a place where harmony co-exists with adversity, especially for three young men growing up there: Doughboy (Ice Cube), an unambitious drug dealer; his brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a college-bound teenage father; and Ricky’s best friend Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who aspires to a brighter future beyond “The Hood.” In a world where a trip to the store can end in death, the friends have diverse reactions to their bleak surroundings. Tre’s resolve is strengthened by a strong father (Larry Fishburne) who keeps him on the right track. But the lessons Tre learns are put to the ultimate test when tragedy strikes close to home, and violence seems the only recourse.

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Boyz n the Hood 8.75

eyelights: Lawrence Fishburne. its character dynamics. its performances. its message.
eyesores: its somewhat predictable ending. its misogynous characters.

“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”

I consider myself fortunate. I live in Canada, which has a very different relationship with guns than the United States does. There aren’t gun shops on each street corner here. People aren’t packing heat everywhere they go. They’re also not shooting each other over stupid $#!t all the time.

In Canada, people die of boredom, not gunshot wounds.

Could do worse.

If I’d lived in the United States, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. I lived in a townhouse rental complex; we weren’t rich, most kids were from divorced families or in hard-up ones. Some of my friends were troublemakers. I got into trouble too, sometimes – though nothing too serious.

I got really lucky that I didn’t fall into alcohol and drugs: I have a tendency for obsessive-compulsiveness and self-destruction, so I’d like have gone into it deep. I also got lucky that there weren’t any guns around. As a teen, I had a fascination with them; I’d likely have gotten myself a piece.

I’d like have hurt someone by mistake.

Or got myself hurt.

I hear about the !@#$-ed $#!t going on in the United States and I don’t understand how anyone could consider this normal. How could everyone packing guns make sense; you can’t protect yourself from a bullet with a gun. Best not to have any guns on the street. Or at the mall. Or in schools.

!@#$

When I first saw ‘Boyz n the Hood’, it brought home the reality of gun violence. It’s one thing to want to emulate Dirty Harry, an anti-hero who uses a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum to punch holes in the underworld. But it’s another thing altogether to have to look over your shoulder all the time.

…or else get a bullet in your back.

The picture tells the story of three boys growing up and trying to survive in South Central L.A. Though it’s told from the perspective of Tre, who lives with his father while his mother gets her Master’s degree, it also follows his best friend Ricky and Ricky’s stepbrother, Darrin (a.k.a. Doughboy).

The three are very different: Tre has been forged on the straight-and-narrow by his dad, Furious Styles; he’s an excellent student, has a job, and doesn’t drink or do drugs. Ricky is a scattered teen dad vying for a football scholarship. Meanwhile, Darrin is always on the wrong side of the law.

‘Boyz n the Hood’, which is based on first-time filmmaker John Singleton’s actual childhood experiences, serves as a wake-up call to anyone who dreams of da thug life: it ain’t no way to live. It even begins with statistics, indicating that 1 out of 21 black males will get murdered – mostly by blacks.

Yikes.

Brother kills brother.

If John Singleton has anything to say here, it’s that being uneducated, stealing, selling drugs, and killing each other will amount to nothing. It just perpetuates a vicious circle of degradation from which it’s nearly impossible to climb out. He wants it to stop. He wants people to get smart.

That’s why Furious is such a potent force in the picture. He’s not just Tre’s guide, but he’s the picture’s moral core; he’s street-smart, educated, hard-working, forward-thinking and responsible. He has sober advice for Tre (and the audience) for just about every situation. He’s our guru.

‘Boyz n the Hood’ is one of my all-time favourite films. I think a large part of that is because of Furious, who’s portrayed with incredible depth by Lawrence Fishburne. He’s the father figure I wish I had, wish I was. Though imperfect, he’s the mentor that almost any kid would benefit from.

It’s easy to look up to the guy.

I especially love the father-son moments in this picture, because it shows how tight the pair are; though Furious is tough on his son, thereby keeping him steady, he also creates a bond with him by sharing and being involved. He’s certainly not an absentee father, like many of his peers are.

The bond between Tre, Ricky, Doughboy and Dougboy’s friend Chris is also a big attraction for me. It has that ‘Stand By Me‘ (which inspired Singleton) quality about it that reminds me of my own childhood, just killing time hanging out with friends, wandering about and discovering the world.

The key difference, though, is that we didn’t find dead bodies.

Welcome to South Central.

The relationships are the strongest, most insightful aspects of the picture, because they show us how these characters cope with the omnipresent violence and cannibalism taking place in their ‘hood: Tre does it with brains, Ricky with escapism and Doughboy by trying to outdo his aggressors.

With their complimentary worldviews, together they manage to navigate the (relative) Hell that they’re in; they influence each other and learn from each other’s mistakes. It felt very true to me, as that’s the kind of childhood that I had; I was just lucky that life pulled me away from the Doughboys.

Usually in a nick of time, too.

What I don’t like about this picture is that the characters, though intelligent, are downright misogynous: women should do the housework, women should put out, women are hos, …etc. I’m not saying that it isn’t contextually-accurate, but it still offended me to see women treated this way.

I mean, even Tre is a douche with his girlfriend: he tries to manipulate her into the sack, playing with her emotions to get what he wants. It’s essentially emotional abuse and blackmail – and I just can’t stand to watch that. It’s awful. And he’s one of the good guys, so you can just imagine.

Thankfully his mom comes out clean: played be Angela Bassett, who would never take $#!t from anyone, she’s smart, classy and composed. She’s got a plan – for herself and for Tre. She earns respect, even from Furious, who isn’t always on the same page as her. She’s an excellent female role model.

The dialogues are potent and to the point: Singleton covers a wide range of issues, from systemic racism, to internalized racism, education, crime, drugs, gentrification, Police brutality, the Army, and so forth. He often brings up causes and effects, helping to enlighten his audiences about these realities.

It’s a smart film.

Was it the first of its kind? I don’t know. It was certainly the first one that I saw. And it’s certainly far more articulate than its peers and its emulators. In any case, it speaks to me in a way that it probably shouldn’t given that I’ve never known anything like Tre, Ricky and Darrin’s violent world.

This movie moves me. It stimulates me. It motivates me.

‘Boyz n the Hood’ was a massive hit upon its release in 1991, both commercially and critically, propelling Singleton (as well as a slew of young actors, including Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube) to the top. He was nominated for an Academy Award, making him (at 24) the youngest director ever nommed.

This viewing was the first time I’d seen it in maybe a decade, and it’s lost none of its potency. Granted, the outcome is now predictable, but its emotional core is solid. I love this picture like I do very few others: it resonates with me. It feels real. It feels true. It makes me feel strong emotions.

‘Boys n the Hood’ is about opportunities and role models. It’s about the environments and events that shape the rest of our (sometimes all too brief) lives. I can’t even begin to imagine the post-traumatic stress disorders that kids like these must experience with all of this violence around them.

Damn… some of us got lucky.

Date of viewing: November 4, 2017

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