Sunday 29 August 2021

Movie Review: Boyz N The Hood (1991)

A social drama and coming-of-age story, Boyz N The Hood is a stunningly clear-eyed look at the grim realities of the Black inner-city experience.

It's 1984 in Los Angeles, and 10-year-old Tre gets into trouble at school one time too many. His divorced mother Reva (Angela Bassett) transports him to live with his father Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne) in the tough Crenshaw neighbourhood. Furious is a real estate agent and determined to keep Tre out of trouble by being a good male role model. The other neighbourhood kids, including brothers Darren and Ricky, are not so lucky and lack a father figure.

Seven years later, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is finishing high school, holding a job at the mall, and courting girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long). They are both planning to go to college. Ricky is already a father, but hoping his football skills will secure him a college scholarship. Darren has dropped out of school and is into thuggery as the neighbourhood crack cocaine dealer. Crenshaw is besieged by despair, frequent shootings, brutality, and police interventions. When Darren tangles with a rival gang, the violence escalates.

At 24 years old, John Singleton wrote and directed Boyz N The Hood based on his own experiences and the friends he grew up with in South Central Los Angeles. The first Black cinematic perspective of the treacherous environment where American Black youth are brought up, this is a painfully stark and often harrowing portrayal of a hell on earth. The language is coarse, the behaviour brazen and crass, the attitude towards women abhorrent, and it's all routine for youth coming of age unequipped to even seek a better future.

Young men like Tre, Ricky and Darren emerge from broken homes where parents are more than likely to be addicts. With limited opportunities and resources, they flounder to find their way out of a jungle dominated by violence, guns, drugs and abuse. Singleton underlines the siege mentality with the clatter of police helicopters hovering incessantly overhead, the Crenshaw residents' main interaction with government reduced to officers quick to aim guns at heads and hardware at the entire neighbourhood.

The film does have weaknesses. The opening segment with the kids sometimes slips into television drama mode, a warped mirror of The Cosby Show. The salute to Stand By Me threatens to slip into mimicry. Beyond Tre, Darren and Ricky, the film is littered with young men who remain stock representations. And Cuba Gooding Jr. at 23 struggles to convince as the 17 year old Tre.

While the messaging is preachy, it is also effective in its simplicity. A present and caring father is a starting point to improve the odds. Birth control tames the cycle of instability. Young Black males refraining from knee-jerk reactions to kill each other at the slightest provocation helps. Pursuing school and employment is a good idea. And broader society could contribute by stemming the flow of guns and drugs into neighbourhoods least equipped to survive the resulting carnage.

Singleton does not pretend any outsiders are actively seeking solutions, and in Furious Styles Boyz N The Hood finds the catalyst for a change that can only come from within. The path out of affliction requires uncommon fortitude, but the alternatives are depressingly dire.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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