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Appreciation: How John Singleton's stunning, singular 'Boyz N the Hood' changed Hollywood

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Director John Singleton, known for his work on “Boyz N the Hood,” has died at age 51.
USA TODAY

Groundbreaking filmmaker John Singleton, the first African American to be nominated for a best director Oscar for 1991’s “Boyz N the Hood” – and the youngest nominee at 24 –  has died following complications of a stroke.

His family revealed Monday that Singleton, 51, who quietly coped with hypertension, had been taken off life support after suffering a stroke April 17. His death prompted tributes for the writer/director whose singular filmmaking voice began with his stunning debut “Boyz N the Hood,” which brought the harsh life realities of young black men in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood to light.

“John was a brave artist and a true inspiration. His vision changed everything,” tweeted director Jordan Peele, who has hailed Singleton as a major influence and “Boyz in the Hood” as a masterpiece. The Library of Congress inducted the movie into the National Film Registry in 2002.

The family’s statement referred to Singleton as a “supernova” who “changed the game and opened doors in Hollywood, a world that was just a few miles away, yet worlds away, from the neighborhood in which he grew up.” 

‘His vision changed everything’: John Singleton mourned by Samuel L. Jackson, Jordan Peele and more

Earlier: Director John Singleton to be taken off life support following stroke, rep says

Singleton grew up in South Los Angeles and drew from his own experiences for the drama about three friends dealing with everything from gangs to racist cops as they navigate life.

“I was living this film before I ever thought about making it,” Singleton told Vice in 2016 in conjunction with the film’s 25th anniversary.

Months after graduating from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Singleton cast the unknown Cuba Gooding Jr. as Tre, introduced Morris Chestnut as the football scholarship-bound Ricky, and gave NWA rapper Ice Cube his first acting role as Ricky’s brother Doughboy. Laurence Fishburne starred as Furious, Tre’s respected father, based on Singleton’s own dad, who steered his son away from the pitfalls of street life toward education. 

Singleton knew Gooding and Chestnut were right for the roles after their first script read and cancelled the rest of the day’s auditions.

“I said I was going to lunch. We had seven more people to see! But I just said, “This guy’s gonna be Tre, and the chocolate guy’s gonna be Ricky,” Singleton told Vice. “I’m gonna go eat. Goodbye!”

Acclaimed director John Singleton’s stroke: African-Americans face greater risk

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  • John Singleton in Los Angeles on June 26, 2017. 1 of 26
  • Damson Idris, and John Singleton in Los Angeles on June 26, 2017. 2 of 26
  • Ice Cube and John Singleton from the film Boyz n the Hood at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 in Cannes, France. 3 of 26
  • John Singleton inside a screening room in Los Angeles in 1991. 4 of 26
  • John Singleton, photographed by USA TODAY on  July 1, 1991, in Los Angeles.5 of 26
  • Ice Cube, left, and John Singleton speak during the ESPN network segment of the cable portion of the 2009 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel on July 29, 2009, in Pasadena, Calif.6 of 26
  • Writer/Director Craig Brewer, left, Producer Stephanie Allain, and Producer John Singleton, right, on the set of the motion picture Hustle  Flow on Jan. 2004. 7 of 26
  • Producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain take part in a panel discussion for the variety screening of Hustle  Flow at the Directors Guild of America Theater on June 24, 2005, in New York.8 of 26
  • John Singleton of the film Hustle and Flow poses for portraits during the 2005 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 22, 2005, in Park City, Utah. 9 of 26
  • John Singleton and Nia Long attend the Magic Theatres, opening in Baldwin Hills, Calif. on July 10. 1995.10 of 26
  • John Singleton arrives for the world premiere of Abduction at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Calif. on Sept. 15, 2011. 11 of 26
  • Director John Singleton, center, with Jason Isaacs, left, and Taylor Lautner on the set of the motion picture Abduction. 12 of 26
  • John Singleton takes pictures on stage at the Fast and Furious DVD Release Party in Farajdo, Puerto Rico on Sept. 25, 2003. 13 of 26
  • John Singleton talks after receiving his award at The Producers Guild of America 2nd Annual Celebration of Diversity Awards held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Oct. 1, 2003, in Beverly Hills, Calif. 14 of 26
  • Snoop Dogg, left, and John Singleton present onstage at the 2004 Spike TV Video Game Awards at Barker Hanger on Dec. 14, 2004, in Santa Monica, Calif.  15 of 26
  • Director John Singleton on the set of the motion picture Four Brothers on August 8, 2005.  16 of 26
  • Mark Wahlberg, left, and John Singleton arrive at the premiere for Four Brothers at the 31st Deauville Festival of American Film on Sept. 10, 2005, in Deauville, France.  17 of 26
  • John Singleton accepts his award for Outstanding Directing during the 37th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Feb. 25, 2006, in Los Angeles, Calif. 18 of 26
  • John Singleton, and Wanda De Jesus at the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts 10th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 3, 2006, in Washington.19 of 26
  • John Singleton, left, and Spike Lee arrive at the Miracle At St. Anna premiere during 2008 Toronto International Film Festival held at The Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre on Sept. 7, 2008, in Toronto.20 of 26
  • John Singleton arrives at the premiere of FX's Snowfall Season 2 at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 on July 16, 2018, in Los Angeles. 21 of 26
  • John Singleton is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his achievements in film at Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, Calif. on Aug. 26, 2003. 22 of 26
  • John Singleton attends a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre Aug. 26, 2003, in Hollywood, Calif.  23 of 26
  • John Singleton attends build to discuss Snowfall at Build Studio on July 20, 2017, in New York.24 of 26
  • John Singleton, director of the motion picture Baby Boy on June 24, 2001.25 of 26
  • John Singleton arrives at the 91st Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2019.26 of 26

The film exploded to critical acclaim when it debuted in 1991 at Cannes Film Festival in France before turning into a $57 million box-office hit.

Critic Roger Ebert’s review hailed the “important” film as a “a human drama of rare power – Academy Award material. Singleton is a director who brings together two attributes not always found in the same film: He has a subject, and he has a style.”

Two years after director Spike Lee was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 1989’s “Do the Right Thing,” Singleton’s “Boyz in the Hood” earned him historic Oscar nominations for directing and original screenplay.

Singleton didn’t wait to be offered other films in a Hollywood that “didn’t know what to do with me,” telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that he took advice from director Francis Ford Coppola: “Try to write as many of your works as possible so that you have a singular voice.” 

He displayed that voice in his follow-up films, writing and directing the romantic drama “Poetic Justice,” starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur; 1997’s “Rosewood,” a historical drama featuring the white mob massacre against a town of black residents; and 2001’s coming-of-age drama “Baby Boy,” which revolved around an unemployed man (Tyrese Gibson) living in his mother’s home.

He directed Samuel L. Jackson as New York City police detective in 2000’s “Shaft” remake, went into full action mode with Paul Walker in 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious” and helmed Taylor Lautner in the 2011 thriller “Abduction.” 

Singleton returned to his South Central Los Angeles roots for the 2017 TV series “Snowfall,” which focused on the impact of the 1980s crack epidemic.

“This show is the root of all that,” Singleton told USA TODAY in 2017. “This is before the events of ‘Boys N the Hood’ and subsequent films. It’s the South Central LA of my childhood that I remember, very sunny, beautiful. There was always an undercurrent of danger, but it was never as bad as it is going to get.”

Looking back, Singleton thought his hard-charging way of life led to his long career.

“There’s hardly any precedent for a guy like me to have the career that I’ve had,” Singleton told The Hollywood Reporter.  “Because I grew up the way I grew up, I’m an in-your-face kind of guy. I developed that as a defense mechanism to survive in the streets. I do that in Hollywood in the service of my passion.”

But the divorced father of seven found his greatest joy cruising the Pacific Ocean on his sailboat, called J’s Dream. His family paid homage to both the impact of his work and his inner peace in the farewell statement.

“We who have grown up with John, made movies with him, sailed with John and laughed with John, know the universe of calm and creativity he created for so many,” the statement said.

“Now in the wake of his death, we must navigate the storm without him. It is, for us, heartbreaking.”  

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Engel, best known for her role as soft-voiced Georgette Franklin on one of the best sitcoms ever, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died April 12  at age 70 in Princeton, New Jersey. Engel played the sweet, ever-so-innocent girlfriend and later wife of self-important TV anchor Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) on “Moore,” and later appeared on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Coach,” the soap “Passions,” and, more recently, in “Hot in Cleveland.” Chris Pizzello, Invision/APJan-Michael Vincent, star of the hit series “Airwolf” and ’80s hunk, died Feb. 10 in Asheville, N.C. He was 73. Vincent acted in a number of feature films, sharing the screen with the likes of John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and Charles Bronson, and appeared in episodes of iconic shows “Lassie,” “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke.” He made headlines as the highest-paid American television actor, receiving $200,000 an episode during the filming of “Airwolf.”  Associated Press

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