Earlier last week, the world lost a true creative visionary. Director John Singleton passed away due to a stroke, to the dismay of many people in the film industry, and many cinephiles, including myself. Throughout the years, his films have been a heavy influence in my life, but I couldn’t find the right words to really express what his work has meant to me. The only thing that stuck out in my mind was a very valuable lesson I learned by watching his most acclaimed classic, Boyz ‘N the Hood.
I was the tender age of seven when I first watched the 1991 film. Singleton’s story was a very real and honest look at life, not only in it’s backdrop of South Central Los Angeles, but in many impoverished inner city neighborhoods across the country. Though a lot of the movie centered on how gang violence and drugs negatively affect the people of my culture (just in case ya’ll forgot, I am African-American) that live in these areas, one issue (which is still a problem today) that always resonates with me just a tiny bit more than the others — Gentrification. That’s right, a movie taught me a lesson in gentrification, with a line that Furious Styles (a pre-Morpheus Lawrence Fishburne) gives to his son and his best friend (Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Morris Chestnut) after seeing a “Cash for your home” billboard in the middle of the neighborhood, while the boys simply wave it off as nothing.
“What are you all? Amos and Andy? Are you Stepin and he’s Fetchit? I’m talking about the message. What it stands for. It’s called gentrification. It’s what happens when the property value of a certain area is brought down. They can buy the land at a lower price, then they move all the people out, raise the value and sell it at a profit. Now what we need to do is keep everything in our neighborhood — black. Black owned with black money. Just like the Jews, the Italians, the Mexicans, and the Koreans do.”
That line from the film, most notably that last part, stresses the importance of people who already live in neighborhoods like this. That figuring out a way to put money back in into them to increase the value, so the very notion of being gentrified won’t even be an option. I can go on and on about the subject, which is still very relevant nearly 30 years after this film’s release, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Singleton’s films often educated, enlightened or entertained me with each watch, whether it was the tragic true story of Rosewood, the gritty revenge action/family drama of Four Brothers, or yes, even the seemingly lackluster CGI of the infamous Fast and Furious sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious. I’ve always admired the fact that, for me, no matter what genre he covered in a film, he always had something real to say through his work, and that’s something rarely found in most modern cinema. On behalf of myself, The culture, and cinephiles everywhere, John, you will be missed. Rest in Power.
photo cred: Variety.com