Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘Boyz N the Hood’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 12, 1991

"Boyz in the Hood" is torn straight from the city section of any major metropolitan newspaper. A warning about neglected black men, it will often tear at the heart too -- at least, when it doesn't feel like the rap equivalent of a classroom lecture.

At the beginning, cold statistics slapped on screen tell it all: One out of every 21 black males will die of murder. Most of them will perish at each other's hands. In an emotional coming-of-age story, 23-year-old director John Singleton takes this set of facts and runs with it.

Ten-year-old Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II) and his friends Doughboy and Ricky (Baha Jackson and Donovan McCrary) already know the score in their L.A. neighborhood. Helicopters rumble constantly overhead. A crack-addicted mother offers herself to anyone for another fix. Adolescents hang rowdily on street corners. Reagan-Bush reelection posters stare at alleys full of trash and bloodstains from the latest murder. If anyone gets out of this neighborhood, there's nothing for them anyway.

Singleton watches violence work on the three friends like a hidden cancer. The kids look at those bloodstains with jaded eyes. They play football near a body ("Look like Freddy Krueger got him," says one). They don't converse with so much as insult each other. Tre has the significant advantage of a father (Larry Fishburne) who cares about bringing him up. That's why he stays home while his friends are run off to the police station for stealing once again.

Singleton jumps forward seven years. The three friends are now young men. Thanks to his father, Tre (now played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is still on the straight and narrow. Ricky (Morris Chestnut), whose girlfriend already has a baby, is applying for an athletic scholarship. But Doughboy (rap singer Ice Cube), who owns a gun, has learned the doomed ways of the street. The friends are about to experience a gangland tragedy that will test the aforementioned murder stats. It's an undeniably powerful finale.

The best performances come from Fishburne and Ice Cube. In terms of the movie's uplift-the-race purposes, Fishburne is the finest element (although it doesn't help matters that he owns an enormous Magnum). Ice Cube as the kid who never had, nor even contemplated, a future, is tremendously believable.

But "Boyz," one in a groundswell of rap-culture movies, betrays Singleton's artistic youthfulness. A subplot, in which Tre's postgraduate-student mother (Angela Bassett) leaves her kid with his father, is superficially outlined. When things get suspenseful, Singleton gets decidedly corny about the editing. His finger-wagging isn't as clumsily intrusive as Robert Townsend's, but it's there. The agenda in this film includes the evils of Eurocentric education, the cultural bias of SAT exams, the importance of condoms, white gentrification of black neighborhoods, black male mistreatment of their women, and so on.

These points, however, touch some raw nerve endings in black America; they need to be made. Singleton adroitly lets the emotions wash over the didacticism, his feet placed squarely on direct experience and timeliness. If you don't live in or near one of these neighborhoods, just turn to the news at 11 to see.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help