John Singleton 1968-
(Full name John Daniel Singleton) American screenwriter and director.
The following entry presents an overview of Singleton's life and career through 2001.
With the debut of his first film Boyz N the Hood (1991), Singleton joined the ranks of Spike Lee and Matty Rich as one of the most prominent young African-American filmmakers of the 1990s. A critical and popular success, Boyz N the Hood earned Singleton Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director. He was the youngest and the first African-American director nominated for the Best Director award. Boyz N the Hood chronicles the struggles of three African-American friends growing up in South Central, a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles. Singleton's vivid portrayal of street-gang violence and his examination of the psyche of inner-city males brought him accolades from both critics and audiences alike. He has continued to make strong, opinionated films on a range of topics including prejudice in American universities and the importance of role models for African-American youths.
Singleton was born on January 6, 1968, in South Central Los Angeles, California. His father, Danny, was a mortgage broker and his mother, Sheila, was a sales executive. His parents eventually separated, leaving Singleton to spend weekdays with his mother and his weekends with his father. He exhibited a passion for filmmaking at an early age and began working on screenplays in high school. Singleton enrolled at University of Southern California Film School and received his B.A. in 1990. During his tenure in the film program, Singleton won three writing awards from the university and was recruited by the influential talent company, Creative Artists Agency, after graduation. The agency submitted Singleton's screenplay for Boyz N the Hood to Columbia Pictures, who signed him to a three-picture deal. Boyz N the Hood received widespread acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival and the film was a financial success both in America and abroad. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Singleton two Oscar nominations: one for Best Original Screenplay and the other for Best Director.
In Boyz N the Hood, Tre Styles and his friends Ricky and Doughboy attempt to survive adolescence despite the constant threat of violence and the temptation to profit from the ever-present illegal drug business. Opening with the statistic that one out of every twenty-two African-American males will be murdered—most by other African-American males—the film emphasizes the difficulty of survival for young adults in the “hood.” The “hood” is a slang term used by characters in the film to refer to their primarily African-American neighborhood. When he is ten years old, Tre is sent by his divorced mother to live with his father, Furious. As Tre grows, Furious teaches him a sense of responsibility and dignity, making him strong and able to resist the lure of gangs and the quick profits of selling drugs. At film's end, Tre, guided by his father's example, manages to survive and go to college, while Ricky and Doughboy—who both lack male role models—are killed. Poetic Justice (1993) is also set in the gang-controlled neighborhoods of Los Angeles, but the film centers on a romance between Justice, a beautician who writes poetry, and Lucky, a postal carrier who has aspirations to become a rapper. The plot follows Justice, Lucky, and two friends as they drive down the California coast. During the road trip, Justice and Lucky begin to open up to each other—she reads her poetry to Lucky, he tells Justice about his relationship with his daughter. The two eventually fall in love and wrestle with the risks involved in starting a new relationship. The poetry that Justice reads during the film was written by renowned poet Maya Angelou. In 1995, Singleton directed Higher Learning, a film set on a fictional college campus dealing with issues of race, violence, and sex. The plot follows an ensemble of characters including Malik Williams, an African-American track star who is convinced the university only wants him for his athletic abilities; Deja, Malik's confident and ambitious girlfriend; Kristen, a white freshman coping with date rape; and Remy, a white student from Idaho who joins a Neo-Nazi group. The students are advised by Professor Phipps, a history teacher dedicated to educating his students and preventing race-related violence on campus. Rosewood (1997) is based on a factual incident of racial violence that occurred during the first week of 1923 in the African-American town of Rosewood, Florida—an incident that had largely been kept secret until a Florida reporter discovered records of the events in 1982. In early 1923 several white inhabitants of a neighboring town, Sumner, burned Rosewood and murdered or tortured many of its townspeople after a white woman falsely accused an African-American man of rape. Two of Rosewood's main characters—a white shopkeeper and an African-American World War I veteran—work together to rescue the women and children of Rosewood who had been forced into the surrounding woods by the white mob. In 2000, Singleton directed a remake of the 1971 classic African-American action movie, Shaft. The original protagonist, an African-American private detective named John Shaft, was a strutting and proud ladies' man known for his strength and skill with the opposite sex. Singleton's version recast Shaft as a police detective who quits the force when a racist white murderer is released under bail after he kills a young African-American. The murderer quickly flees the country, but when he returns several years later, Shaft—now a private detective—seeks vengeance. In 2001, Singleton directed Baby Boy, in which his work returns to the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. The film centers around a twenty-year-old African-American man named Jody. Jody lives at home with his mother, Juanita, but has fathered several children out of wedlock. When Juanita's boyfriend Melvin moves in with them, Melvin becomes a role model for Jody. Jody eventually matures and expresses a desire to become self-sufficient and to be a better father to his children.
Boyz N the Hood received a considerable amount of critical praise during its release. Critics commended Singleton for honestly portraying the harsh and brutal conditions that many African-Americans are forced to endure every day in large urban areas. Reviewers were particularly pleased with Singleton's vivid characterizations and his disdain for the Hollywood cliché of ending conflicts with an “easy” or uncomplicated resolution. Intrigued by this new cinematic trend, critics as well as audiences have responded favorably to Boyz N the Hood. “No first film in the new wave of films by and about black Americans states the case for the movement's longevity more forcefully than Boyz N the Hood,” declared Susan Stark. Poetic Justice and Higher Learning, however, did not receive the same critical praise. Many reviewers found Poetic Justice to be unfocused and pretentious, noting that the film's central romance seemed clichéd and unlikely. Higher Learning was complimented for its challenging subject matter, but most critics argued that the film was too simplistic and direct to effectively achieve its message. Rosewood was embraced by several reviewers, who lauded the film for shedding light on an undesirable portion of American history, but the film was generally ignored by American audiences. Singleton's remake of Shaft was widely criticized for failing to capture the subversive spirit of the original and for succumbing to the simple formulas of slick Hollywood action movies. With Baby Boy, Singleton regained much of the praise he originally received with Boyz N the Hood, although a number of reviewers noted that the plots of the two films are significantly similar.
Boyz N the Hood [screenwriter and director] (film) 1991
Poetic Justice [screenwriter and director] (film) 1993
Higher Learning [screenwriter and director] (film) 1995
Rosewood [director] (film) 1997
*Shaft [screenwriter and director] (film) 2000
Baby Boy [screenwriter and director] (film) 2001
*Singleton shared screenwriting credit on Shaft with Richard Price and Shane Salerno.
(The entire section is 46 words.)
SOURCE: Brunette, Peter. “Singleton's Street Noises.” Sight and Sound 1, no. 4 (August 1991): 13.
[In the following essay, Brunette discusses Singleton's response to the positive and negative critical reaction to Boyz N the Hood.]
Present at this year's Cannes festival for the world premiere of his first film, Boyz N the Hood, a sophisticated if somewhat preachy account of three young boys' violent coming of age in the black ghetto of South Central Los Angeles, twenty-three-year-old John Singleton is clearly enjoying the attention.
When I arrive for our scheduled interview, he is on his way back to his room. He suggests that we talk as we walk along the Croisette, Cannes' jam-packed main thoroughfare. We try this for about ninety seconds, and it's clearly not going to work. I propose instead that we reschedule with the publicist and he is instantly, genuinely grateful. Despite what the folks back home think, Cannes is hard on everyone.
Boyz N the Hood is a tough, raw film. The sense of frustration and urgency expressed is so great that at times Singleton's characters seem to mount invisible soapboxes to address the audience directly and shake some sense into them. Judged from a strictly aesthetic viewpoint, these moments are flaws; in this film, paradoxically, they add to the overwhelming feeling of real life and direct witness. Singleton quietly...
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. Review of Boyz N the Hood, by John Singleton. New Republic (2 September 1991): 26–27.
[In the following review, Kauffman offers a mixed assessment of Boyz N the Hood, criticizing the “patently fabricated” structure of the film.]
Boyz N the Hood (Columbia) is the latest in the New Black Wave, written and directed by the 23-year-old John Singleton. Hood means neighborhood. The picture centers on the part of Los Angeles where Singleton and some of his cast grew up—not ghetto-slummy but nonetheless a war zone.
Singleton tells the story of a black youth growing to late adolescence amid drugs and drug-related crime, trying to keep straight under the tutelage of a father who is strong on discipline. (His divorced mother agrees early on that it would be better for her son to be raised by a male.) Around the growing boy are his friends, male and female. Most of them get mired in difficult circumstances. For the central character, all finally works out well.
The ending's attempt at cheer is not one of the picture's faults: many black youths certainly do come through troubles to lead good lives. Where this film seems to me patently fabricated, unlike Hangin' with the Homeboys and Straight Out of Brooklyn, is in its form. The earlier films, especially Hangin' with the Homeboys, tried to move away from a...
(The entire section is 341 words.)
SOURCE: Kermode, Mark. Review of Boyz N the Hood, by John Singleton. Sight and Sound 1, no. 7 (November 1991): 37–38.
[In the following review, Kermode offers a positive assessment of Boyz N the Hood.]
South Central Los Angeles, 1984. Unable to control her increasingly wild son Tre, Reva Styles sends him to live with his father Furious, who can teach him to “be a man.” Tre develops a close friendship with neighbouring youths Ricky and Doughboy Baker, two half-brothers—living with their single mother—whose natures are diametrically opposed: Ricky is a tall but unaggressive football devotee; Doughboy a heavy-set tearaway whose headstrong bullishness soon leads to his arrest.
Seven years later, Tre is reunited with his childhood friends at a barbecue celebrating Doughboy's release from jail. Tre has developed a seemingly sturdy relationship with Furious, and proudly discusses his adolescent sexual exploits with his father; in reality, Tre's Catholic girlfriend Brandi will not permit intercourse before marriage and the boy remains a virgin. Furious, a financial adviser who arranges mortgages for local people, speaks out against violence between rival black gangs as merely serving white oppression.
Eager to enter college on a football scholarship, Ricky (who has now fathered a son) takes his SAT exams with Tre. That night, at a local streetside teenage...
(The entire section is 820 words.)
SOURCE: Dyson, Michael Eric. “Between Apocalypse and Redemption: John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood.” Cultural Critique 21 (spring 1992): 121–41.
[In the following essay, Dyson commends Singleton for accurately portraying the psyche of inner-city youths in Boyz N the Hood.]
By now the dramatic decline in black male life has become an unmistakable feature of our cultural landscape—though of course the causes behind the desperate condition of black men date much further back than its recent popular discovery. Every few months, new reports and conferences attempt to explain the poverty, disease, despair, and death that shove black men toward social apocalypse.
If these words appear too severe or hyperbolic, the statistics testify to the trauma. For black men between 18 and 29, suicide is the leading cause of death. Between 1950 and 1984, the life expectancy for white males increased from 63 to 74.6 years, but only from 59 to 65 years for black males. Between 1973 and 1986, the real earnings of black males between the ages of 18 and 29 fell 31 percent as the percentage of young black males in the work force plummeted 20 percent. The number of black men who dropped out of the work force altogether doubled from 13 to 25 percent.
By 1989, almost 32 percent of black men between 16 and 19 were unemployed, compared to 16 percent of white men. And while blacks...
(The entire section is 8083 words.)
SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Old Times, New Times.” New Republic (23–30 August 1993): 30–31.
[In the following negative review, Kauffmann criticizes both Poetic Justice and Rob Weiss's Amongst Friends.]
Two new films raise questions that they don't directly address. Poetic Justice (Columbia) is the second picture by John Singleton, the young black writer-director who did Boyz N the Hood. Amongst Friends (Fine Line) is the first film by the young white writer-director Rob Weiss. Both pictures deal with young people—blacks in South Central L.A., whites in the well-to-do Five Towns of Long Island. Both are trite stories as such; both have gun play; both have ceaseless profanity. Few adults who have been going to films at all in the last ten years can be surprised by anything that happens in them. Few can be entertained by them, let alone enlightened. Few, I think, will escape some tinge of despair.
Poetic Justice begins with the gross murder of a young man that has absolutely no effect, past initial shock, on the young woman who is embracing him in a car when a gun is put to his head. (This woman is played by Janet Jackson, the hit singer.) Most of the story is about a trip from L.A. to Oakland in a U.S. Mail van, driven by a postal employee who takes his girlfriend (Jackson) and another couple along. Their quarrels and reconciliations are front...
(The entire section is 768 words.)
SOURCE: Rensin, David. “John Singleton Talks Tough.” Playboy 40, no. 9 (September 1993): 98–103.
[In the following interview, Singleton discusses his career, political correctness, and racism in both America and the film industry.]
If John Singleton didn't make movies, he'd be the perfect subject for one. Perhaps too perfect. Who would believe a movie about a kid who grows up in South Central Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a filmmaker? Who lands a slot in USC's prestigious film school, where, as an undergraduate, he twice wins the Jack Nicholson Screenwriting Award? Who, disgusted by Hollywood's cliched portrayal of the gang experience, writes his own script and refuses to sell it unless he's allowed to direct it—and pulls it off?
Of course, Singleton's real-life story is no fantasy. A studio executive gave him the chance to direct his script, and shortly thereafter, Boyz N the Hood was released to praise from the critics as well as to a spurt of opening-night violence at the theaters. Singleton—a mere 23 years old at the time—was nominated for two Oscars, one for original screenplay and one for directing.
Now, two years later, the precocious Singleton is back with his second film, Poetic Justice, starring Janet Jackson. If it does well, Singleton will join Spike Lee as one of the most influential African-American filmmakers around. If it...
(The entire section is 4333 words.)
SOURCE: Wiegman, Robyn. “Feminism, ‘The Boyz,’ and Other Matters Regarding the Male.” In Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, pp. 173–193. London: Routledge, 1993.
[In the following essay, Wiegman explores how Boyz N the Hood deals with issues of masculinity and feminism within the African-American community.]
When Newsweek featured the street smart hero of blaxploitation films, John Shaft, on its cover in October, 1972, it was marking a new era for Hollywood cinema: ‘All over the country,’ the cover story exclaimed, ‘“bad-ass niggers” are collecting dues with a vengeance—and if you don't believe it, just head downtown for a movie’ (October 23, 1972: 74). By the end of the decade, however, African American male stars were increasingly finding themselves the twilight figures in interracial male bonding films, and the high hopes of black cinema in the 1970s seemed at an end.1 But now, Newsweek is heralding another revolution. ‘With 19 films this year,’ it asserts. ‘Hollywood fades to black’ (June 10, 1991: 50).2 And as anyone knows who has gone screening, the primary images issuing from these new films concern the historical complexity and contemporary conditions affecting the African American male, whose high rates of poverty, incarceration, and early death have...
(The entire section is 9005 words.)
SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. Review of Higher Learning, by John Singleton. Commonweal 122, no. 4 (24 February 1995): 55.
[In the following review, Alleva offers a negative assessment of Higher Learning.]
When I went to John Singleton's feature debut, Boyz N the Hood, I was expecting sociology, but what I got was a work of art. Higher Learning, his new movie about sexual and racial tensions on campus, is not only sociology, but the most naive, flat-footed sort imaginable. It's a work of good intentions, and these intentions seem to have leached every last ounce of originality out of Singleton and much of his intelligence of well. I can't think of any recent film that extolled so highly the benefits of knowledge and yet displayed such ignorance in every frame, every line of dialogue, and each turn of an utterly mechanical plot—ignorance of the academic scene, ignorance of what makes a drama compelling, ignorance of life itself. The only sign left of the Singleton who made Boyz is in this movie's propulsion: he's still enough of a filmmaker to keep our eyes on the screen, but that won't stop any viewer who's lived a little from wincing at the callowness he sees there.
Just consider the campus that Singleton presents us with: it's just a hunk of ground on which the director got permission to shoot. There's no there there. For all I know, the campus mall may...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
SOURCE: Nadell, James. “Boyz N the Hood: A Colonial Analysis.” Journal of Black Studies 25, no. 4 (March 1995): 447–64.
[In the following essay, Nadell praises Singleton for using his films to address such important and relevant social issues as drugs in African-American communities and the effects of “Euro-American racist capitalism.”]
Although several issues of consequence are addressed by John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood (1991), mainstream, capitalist media inquiry has emphasized the peripheral, sensational events surrounding the film, failing to provide the necessary structural and contextual analyses that Boyz merits. The raw human tragedy and triumph depicted by Singleton sears and energizes the consciousness of the viewer. In order that this energy not be squandered, it must be channeled into a holistic understanding of the psychological/political/economic/cultural matrix within which the phenomenology portrayed in the film is played out. This article will attempt to provide the structural and contextual analyses that have heretofore been lacking, further enhancing the didactic value of Boyz long after its run in the theaters has drawn to a close.
Three interwoven factors lay at the roots of the crises treated in the film:
1. The demoralizing effects of Euro-American racist capitalism on the material and...
(The entire section is 5845 words.)
SOURCE: Sinker, Mark. Review of Higher Learning, by John Singleton. Sight and Sound 5, no. 10 (October 1995): 10.
[In the following review, Sinker offers a negative assessment of Higher Learning, although he notes that Singleton is “brave” to take on such controversial subject matter.]
It's a new academic year at Columbus University, and the lives of Kristen and Remy (both white) and Malik (black) intertwine. Remy clashes with Fudge (black) over the latter's loud rap music, and is repeatedly rebuffed and mocked. Kristen meets Taryn (white) who invites her to a feminist meeting.
Professor Phipps (black) teaches Kristen and Malik politics. Malik realises he will have to train harder if he wants a full sports scholarship. Kristen gets drunk and has unpleasant sex with a student named Billy. He insults Kristen's black roommate Monet, and is nearly beaten up by Fudge's posse. Kristen, isolated and humiliated, goes to Taryn's meeting. Malik borrows the autobiography of Frederick Douglass from Fudge. Phipps lectures on democracy, property and liberty the assignment for the semester is to formulate your own personal ideology.
Malik meets Deja a smart black female athlete, and they start dating. Kristen is in love with Taryn, but meets Wayne, Malik's untidy white roommate, and likes him. Unable to choose, she has sex with both. Led by Scott, armed Nazi...
(The entire section is 827 words.)
SOURCE: Guerrero, Ed. Review of Rosewood, by John Singleton. Cineaste 23, no. 1 (1997): 45–47.
[In the following review, Guerrero offers a positive assessment of Rosewood, complimenting the film for exploring the “collective, national psyche.”]
John Singleton's Rosewood grapples with a powerful, daunting contradiction. Put simply, how does one make a slick, Hollywood action-adventure-entertainment flick, with big box-office expectations, about one of history's ultimate nightmares: genocidal racism? Singleton is not alone in attempting to negotiate this contradiction, since other mainstream filmmakers have attempted to do so before. Posed as question, this contradiction reverberates with a number of issues, raised most recently by the work of Steven Spielberg in Schindler's List (1993), Mario and Melvin Van Peebles in Panther (1995), Costa-Gavras in Betrayed (1988), and even Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves (1990).
Singleton answers the challenge of his material by casting this true and horrific tale in the mold of the Hollywood revisionist Western, with its lone, gunslinging hero “aimin' to settle down” in a prosperous little town in need of his talents and abilities. This Western is revisionist because the hero is black; the cultural focus is on African America; the scene is the South in the 1920s; and the issue is lynching...
(The entire section is 2169 words.)
SOURCE: Dean, Mensah. “Rosewood: Compelling Tale of Bigotry, Envy, and Violence.” Washington Times (21 February 1997): 15.
[In the following review, Dean offers a positive assessment of Rosewood, calling the film “brutal” and “explosive.”]
As if bracing us for the carnage to come, director John Singleton begins his historical drama Rosewood with a panoramic tour of the namesake town.
It would have been so easy, and quite an attention-grabber, to start this fact-based movie with a wide shot of a howling lynch mob, bloodhounds in tow, looking to avenge an alleged attack on a white woman by a black man on New Year's Day 1923.
But Rosewood, Fla., was a place before it was an incident, so Mr. Singleton wisely first transports us down quaint dirt roads where horses still compete with cars, past plain—but comfortable—wood-framed homes. We see vegetable gardens and livestock—both fixtures in the central Florida town, founded by blacks in 1848.
Over in the neighboring town of Sumner, home to the region's white folks, the houses are not as nice and are, in fact, the property of the local lumber company.
Despite differences in race and living conditions, all indications are that the two towns' populations live in relative tranquillity—if not exactly together.
(The entire section is 770 words.)
SOURCE: Nicholson, David. “Rosewood: A Massacre Transformed into Myth.” Washington Post (21 February 1997): B1.
[In the following review, Nicholson offers a negative assessment of Rosewood, noting that the film “is a failure … albeit a noble one.”]
After making a gangster picture and then one that riffed on '30s romantic road comedies, John Singleton in his newest film turns the 1923 destruction of a black Florida town into a western featuring a sable Shane powerless to save more than a handful of women and children. The result, Rosewood, is a stunning look at the madness of race and racism, and a moving recreation of a shameful incident in U.S. history. But because the filmmakers stray from the facts, presumably in hopes of gaining a wider audience, there is a cheapness at the core of the film that comes perilously close to undermining it.
The Rosewood Massacre is a powerful story, one of those awful times in our history when God and his saints seemed, if not asleep, then to have been looking elsewhere. As author Michael D'Orso recounts in Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood, the horror began New Year's Day 1923 when a white woman, Fannie Taylor, burst from her home, screaming that she had been attacked by a black man. She lived in Sumner—near Florida's Gulf Coast, about 50 miles southwest of Gainesville—a...
(The entire section is 1309 words.)
SOURCE: Svetkey, Benjamin. “The Race Question.” Entertainment Weekly (7 March 1997): 20–21.
[In the following essay, Svetkey discusses the question of whether white filmmakers should be allowed to make films that deal with African-American themes and characters.]
Case No. 1: You are a respected white director who makes a serious film about a grim chapter in American racial history—the 1963 slaying of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. But just as you're dusting off the mantel for that Oscar, the reviews slam you for shoving black characters to the sidelines and focusing on a white assistant district attorney. One black critic even labels your movie the most offensive film of 1996. Adding insult to injury, in its first weekend of wide release it makes a measly ＄5 million.
Case No. 2: You are a respected black director who makes a serious film about a grim chapter in American racial history—the 1923 mass murder and burning of an entire black town in Florida. Once again, some critics take aim, blasting you for demonizing whites, turning blacks into cardboard saints, and propagating what one calls “politically correct jingoism disguised as melodrama.” The opening weekend numbers: a paltry ＄3 million.
Talk about a no-win scenario. Rob Reiner's Ghosts of Mississippi and John Singleton's Rosewood couldn't be more different, but even as...
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
SOURCE: Cottrol, Robert J. Review of Rosewood, by John Singleton. American Historical Review 103, no. 2 (April 1998): 636–37.
[In the following review, Cottrol offers a positive assessment of Rosewood.]
If historical films serve an important historical purpose, they do so not because they accurately reproduce the details of the past in ways that satisfy specialists: few do. Instead, films serve history by reminding audiences ignorant of, indifferent, and increasingly even hostile to considerations of past events, of the way people not unlike themselves lived in other times. By that standard, Rosewood directed by John Singleton, is a very valuable effort indeed. The story of the destruction of a prosperous black township in northern Florida in early 1923 provides the occasion vividly to tell three stories remembered today by few Americans, black or white. The first is a story of black achievement in the face of overwhelming adversity in the Jim Crow America of the early twentieth century. The second story is of the bestial racial violence visited upon Americans of African descent, particularly in the wake of World War I. The final story, the most undertold of all, is black resistance to that violence, a resistance that frequently rose to heroic if often not effective levels.
Singleton weaves these interrelated stories together through the use of a fictional protagonist...
(The entire section is 1060 words.)
SOURCE: Flowers, Phoebe. “Shaft Cops Out Patchwork Script.” Miami Herald (16 June 2000): S32.
[In the following review, Flowers offers a negative assessment of Shaft.]
John Singleton's remake of Shaft casts Samuel L. Jackson, in all his furious glory, as John Shaft, who back in the day was a black private dick doing double duty as a sex machine to all the chicks, but now is just a really, really angry cop with unproven carnal prowess. (Lest there be any confusion, Jackson's John Shaft is not the John Shaft; he's nephew to the character Richard Roundtree made immortal in the 1971 blaxploitation classic.)
It's important to note that the original Shaft, while it has its own impenetrable place in history, wasn't particularly great, or even all that entertaining, save a few indelicate one-liners that still hold up today (Sergeant: “Where are you going?” Shaft: “To get laid; what about you?”). The new Shaft, while energized by several fine performances and occasionally powerful charisma, isn't particularly great, or all that entertaining either, and these days it's certainly not breaking any boundaries.
The film follows, in a circuitous and unpolished fashion, Shaft's attempts to bring a comically racist, extremely wealthy young WASP (Christian Bale) to justice after the boy kills a black man outside a New York nightclub. Bale,...
(The entire section is 666 words.)
SOURCE: Perry, Douglas. “He Could Dig It.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram (16 June 2000): B1, B9.
[In the following essay, Perry provides an overview of Singleton's career.]
As he stepped into the crowded room, the inevitable happened: an audible, lustful gasp.
John Singleton, arriving late, wasn't surprised. He glanced up at the sound, then raised his head high, and paused—and in that moment, as they watched a sly smile curl his lips and his penetrating black eyes survey the scenery, every female present knew exactly what he was thinking. Namely, that any one of them—forget boyfriends, crushes or even husbands—would go with him right now if he so much as crooked a finger their way.
And he wasn't even famous yet.
John Singleton wouldn't admit to it now, but the moment was unmistakable that first day of class at the University of Southern California—and finally, a dozen years after witnessing it, I know how he mastered that magnetic presence: He watched Shaft.
The 1971 MGM classic—the first major studio film to show an African-American as a swaggering, irresistible hero—was the movie of Singleton's childhood. Which might just be why the 32-year-old director is bringing the “sex machine to all the chicks,” as Isaac Hayes' famous theme song calls private eye John Shaft, back to the big screen. Singleton, who stormed...
(The entire section is 1331 words.)
SOURCE: Wilmington, Michael. Review of Baby Boy, by John Singleton. Chicago Tribune (26 June 2001): K2649.
[In the following review, Wilmington offers a positive assessment of Baby Boy, commenting that the film will act like “a smack in the face to some audiences.”]
Baby Boy is an uncensored, unvarnished portrayal of African-American life in South Central Los Angeles—the site of John Singleton's 1991 breakout hit Boyz N the Hood. His new film is so violent and full of sex, foul language and woman-trashing dialogue that some viewers will recoil. Others may damn it as another exploitative collection of negative stereotypes.
Still others, though, may applaud Singleton's daring, returning to this rough-hewn territory after making his big action hit Shaft. Singleton was 23 when he made Boyz, and once again he trains his sights on young urban Los Angeles males, trapped in a rite of passage and in a world bristling with resentment, danger and sex.
The film is certainly a shocker: The language stings and so do the body-blows and gunshots, so jarringly amplified they seem to explode near your ears. It follows the misadventures of 20-year-old Jody (MTV personality Tyrese Gibson, who got the role intended for the late Tupac Shakur), an unemployed layabout who has fathered two illegitimate children. Baby Boy shows a rough path...
(The entire section is 798 words.)
SOURCE: Harrison, Eric. “Baby Boy is Passionate and Disturbing.” Houston Chronicle (27 June 2001): F5.
[In the following review, Harrison offers a positive assessment of Baby Boy.]
A decade after Boyz N the Hood, it's easy to forget how impressive an achievement that movie was, especially considering that its writer and director was only 23. Drawing on the circumstances of his own life, John Singleton created a new kind of movie, one that spoke directly to disaffected youths while at the same time offering mainstream America a stirring glimpse into a world rarely shown on film.
It was hardly Singleton's fault that a flood of gang-related, hip-hop-influenced movies followed. Few of them built on Singleton's work; most merely exploited the audience he discovered. Within a few years of its release it seemed Boyz had given birth to a creatively stunted genre, but one that somehow kept luring ticket buyers even when the films had nothing to say.
Singleton's new movie, Baby Boy, is the filmmaker's first return to this much-plowed ground. It is a far more mature work than Boyz, deeper and more disturbing, and it's more rewarding than most of the other gangsta-rap-influenced films we've seen the past decade.
The movie has faults—it's sometimes preachy, for one thing, and some characters undergo inexplicable changes or...
(The entire section is 1169 words.)
SOURCE: Turan, Kenneth. “This Isn't Neverland.” Los Angeles Times (27 June 2001): F1.
[In the following review, Turan offers a generally positive assessment of Baby Boy, but notes that the film is “at once too neat and too messy.”]
Given the small number of major studio releases that focus on issues within the black community, let alone the specific segment Baby Boy deals with, it's easy to empathize with the sense of urgency writer-director John Singleton must have felt in making this compelling but problematic film.
Yet that same insistence seems to have influenced Singleton to be more of a polemicist than a dramatist, causing his seriocomic romantic melodrama to be wildly erratic and uneven. A story of Peter Pan in the 'hood, of a lost boy who can't or won't grow up, Baby Boy is heartfelt and personal as it attempts to deal with something real, but its increasing desperation to get everything said leads it to stumble over itself. It is a Polaroid snapshot that's finally in too much of a hurry to be fully developed.
From its opening shot of a naked, adult black man curled up in a womb with a giant umbilical cord, Baby Boy utilizes the vivid, direct imagery of a comic book (albeit a very adult one) to make its points. This image goes along with a brief voice-over about a psychological theory that posits that racism has, in effect,...
(The entire section is 811 words.)
SOURCE: Verniere, James. “Singleton's Baby Boy Doesn't Stray Far from the Hood.” Boston Herald (27 June 2001): O47.
[In the following review, Verniere offers a positive assessment of Baby Boy, though notes that the film is undeniably similar to Singleton's Boyz N the Hood.]
Boyz N the Hood becomes singular with Baby Boy, John Singleton's hot-button follow-up to his groundbreaking 1991 drama, a debut made when Singleton was a baby boy himself.
His hip-hop filled new film promises to be just as provocative as Singleton's unflinching portrait of the South Central Los Angeles war zone and its effect on African-American families. Baby Boy begins with a voice-over quoting a psychiatrist's observation that young African-American men are experiencing a kind of group arrested development.
As we watch an image of the film's grown male hero in the womb, a voice-over observes that these “baby boys” call their girlfriends “momma,” their friends “boys” and living quarters “cribs.” Jody (recording artist Tyrese Gibson), this film's New Age Peter Pan, is a handsome young man and father of two living with his attractive 36-year-old mother Juanita (A. J. Johnson) in a room decorated with images of Tupac and Tyra in the small home Juanita inherited from her mother.
Unemployed and unambitious, Jody knows...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
SOURCE: Sterritt, David. “Boyz Director Revisits the 'hood in Baby Boy.” Christian Science Monitor (29 June 2001): 17.
[In the following review, Sterritt offers a mixed assessment of Baby Boy, arguing that the film “breaks little new ground.”]
“He got a Oedipus complex!” exclaims a streetwise character in the middle of Baby Boy, and that sums up the plot in a sentence. Sophocles should get a screenplay credit for John Singleton's new movie—or maybe Sigmund Freud, who gave modern resonance to the ancient tale of a man who murders his father, marries his mother, and slowly realizes the horror of his life.
Things are a little less grim in Baby Boy, but not much. Set in the African-American neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, the story centers on a young man named Jody who lives with his 36-year-old mother and her new boyfriend, an ex-con who claims to have mended his ways. Jody also has two girlfriends, two infants being raised by those girlfriends, and two questionable friends—one a rambunctious companion, the other a jailbird with a dangerous streak.
The movie begins on an intellectual note, stating a psychologist's theory that years of racism and oppression have made many black men see themselves as overgrown children rather than genuine adults. This gives us a clue to Jody's way of life and kicks off the...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
SOURCE: Brent, Kristal. “Rocking the Cradle.” Washington Post (30 June 2001): C1.
[In the following interview, Brent and Singleton discuss the visual imagery in Baby Boy.]
When John Singleton—then a “bookworm” 21-year-old film-school student, by his own description—made Boyz N the Hood, his saga about growing up in south-central Los Angeles, he was instantly catapulted into fame and fortune. Made for ＄6 million, Boyz eventually grossed more than ＄56 million in the United States, and it garnered rave reviews. Because of it, Singleton became, in 1992, the first African American and the youngest filmmaker to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director (plus a nod for Best Screenplay).
This week came Part 3 of what he calls his “hood trilogy” (1993's Poetic Justice, with Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, was number two), and in it Singleton returns to a signature theme: the cycle of doom that perpetually threatens to engulf the unwed black matriarch and her children.
Baby Boy opens with the disconcerting, hallucinatory image of a grown man surrounded by blood vessels, membranes and fetal liquids. The umbilical cord still intact, he rests, at peace, inside his mother's womb. Juxtaposed is the undeniably manly voice of the character, played by Tyrese Gibson.
“There's this psychologist,” his...
(The entire section is 1767 words.)
Lane, Anthony. “Blank Verse.” New Yorker LXIX, no. 24 (2 August 1993): 76–78.
Lane offers a negative assessment of Poetic Justice.
Leigh, Danny. “Shaft: The Melodrama.” Guardian (5 September 2000): 14.
Leigh discusses the turmoil that surrounded the filming of Shaft.
Nicholson, David. “Poetic Justice and Other Cliches.” American Visions 8, no. 4 (August 1993): 26–27.
Nicholson offers a negative assessment of Poetic Justice, calling the film “plodding and unfocused.”
Travers, Peter. Review of Poetic Justice, by John Singleton. Rolling Stone, no. 663 (19 August 1993): 81–82.
Travers offers a mixed assessment of Poetic Justice.
———. Review of Higher Learning, by John Singleton. Rolling Stone, no. 700 (26 January 1995): 66–68.
Travers offers a mixed assessment of Higher Learning, complimenting the film for being “confrontational,” but ultimately faulting the movie for being “seriously flawed.”
———. Review of Rosewood, by John Singleton. Rolling Stone, no. 756 (20 March 1997): 92.
Travers offers a mixed assessment of Rosewood.
(The entire section is 218 words.)