Boyz N the Hood

Shifting Hollywood Terrain

by Joi Carr (Author)
Textbook XXVI, 442 Pages
Series: Framing Film, Volume 20


In 1991, Boyz N the Hood made history as an important film text and the impetus for a critical national conversation about American urban life in African American communities, especially for young urban black males. Boyz N the Hood: Shifting Hollywood Terrain is an interdisciplinary examination of this iconic film and its impact in cinematic history and American culture. This interdisciplinary approach provides an in-depth critical perspective of Boyz N the Hood as the embodiment of the blues: how Boyz intimates a world beyond the symbolic world Singleton posits, how its fictive stance pivots to a constituent truth in the real world. Boyz speaks from the first person perspective on the state of being "invisible." Through a subjective narrative point of view, Singleton interrogates the veracity of this claim regarding invisibility and provides deep insight into this social reality. This book is as much about the filmmaker as it is about the film. It explores John Singleton’s cinematic voice and helps explicate his propensity for a type of folk element in his work (the oral tradition and lore). In addition, this text features critical perspectives from the filmmaker himself and other central figures attached to the production, including a first-hand account of production behind the scenes by Steve Nicolaides, Boyz ’s producer. The text includes Singleton’s original screenplay and a range of critical articles and initial movie reviews.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Boyz n the Hood
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Credits
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Shifting Hollywood Terrain: The Iconic Status of Boyz N the Hood
  • References
  • Part I
  • Prologue: “I Am an Invisible Man”: Boyz and the Literary and Cinematic Imagination
  • Boyz Getting Behind Language: Invisibility and the Literary and Cinematic Imagination
  • Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952): Mediating Self-Knowledge Through Messianic Language
  • Identity, Voice, and History: Death to the “Blackness of Blackness”
  • Blindness: A Condition of the Mind
  • “Blackness”: Critiquing American Notions of Freedom
  • “Wakeful Living”: Death to the Colonized Mind
  • Van Peebles’s Sweetback (1971): Invisible Man’s Cinematic Appearance
  • Sweetback: Ellison’s Invisible Man as a Cinematic Test Case
  • A Test Case: Invisible Man Emerges as Sweetback
  • Characterization: Sweetback Has a Body in Motion
  • Characterization: Sweetback Gets Behind Language
  • Narrative Structure: The Function of Violence
  • Narrative Structure: Function of Extended Montages and Soundtrack
  • In Conclusion
  • Boyz in Context: The Streets of the Southland and Invisibility
  • Masculinity and 1980’s Artistic Zeitgeist
  • Invisibility: Nihilism and the Paraphernalia of Suffering
  • References
  • 1 Singleton’s Cinematic Voice
  • 1991: An Inaugural Breakthrough Year for Black Cinema
  • Spotlight: 1991 Releases
  • Establishing His Voice as a Filmmaker: John Singleton
  • A Student of Cinema: A Precocious Nine-Year-Old?
  • His College Experience to Feature Director
  • Finding Specificity in His Voice
  • Singleton’s Cinematic Style
  • Classical Hollywood Narrative
  • Blend of Fictive and Documentary Realism: Cassavetes-Esque Style
  • Self-Reflexivity
  • Character Centric Narratives
  • Zeitgeist Leitmotif: Function of Score
  • An Actor’s Director
  • Filmmaker Highlights
  • Inspirations/Artistic Influences
  • References
  • 2 Boyz N the Hood: Shifting the Terrain of Urban Cinema “Increase the Peace”
  • Shifting Hollywood Terrain
  • Socialization: In the Home and on the Streets
  • Function of Score
  • Sonic Landscape
  • Dispelling Myth: Landscape and Dialogue
  • Characterization
  • Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne)
  • Father and Son Conversations
  • Darin “Dough Boy” Baker (Ice Cube)
  • Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
  • Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut)
  • Brenda Baker (Tyra Ferrell)
  • Reva Devereaux (Angela Bassett)
  • Brandi (Nia Long)
  • A Note on Female Depictions
  • The Production and Film Release
  • Semiautobiographical
  • References
  • 3 A “Soulful” Director: An Interview with John Singleton
  • The Interview
  • Reflections on John and Boyz
  • Filmography
  • Screenwriter
  • Producer
  • On Baby Boy (2001)
  • Singleton on Baby Boy
  • References
  • 4 Launching Singleton’s Career: An Interview with Steve Nicolaides, Producer
  • The Interview
  • On Childhood and Getting into Show Business
  • On Boyz
  • On Preproduction Process
  • On Production Schedule
  • On Release
  • On Postproduction
  • On Poetic Justice
  • On His Collaborations Over the Years
  • Reference
  • 5 Principal Cast and Crew: Reflective Perspectives on Boyz
  • Principle Cast and Crew
  • Ice Cube (Darin “Dough Boy” Baker)
  • Morris Chestnut (Ricky Baker)
  • Nia Long (Brandi)
  • Spotlight
  • An Actor’s Actor: Close up on Boyz with Tyra Ferrell
  • An Interview with Tyra Ferrell
  • On Childhood and Getting Into the Business
  • On Boyz
  • On Career Highlights
  • Spotlight
  • Laurence Fishburne (Furious Styles)
  • The Treatment
  • An Interview with Fishburne by Elvis Mitchell
  • References
  • Part II
  • 6 Original Boyz Press Kit
  • References
  • 7 Original Screenplay: Boyz N the Hood by John Singleton
  • Reference
  • Part III
  • 8 Critical Perspectives on Boyz N the Hood
  • Critical Articles
  • Between Apocalypse and Redemption: John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Mapping the Hood: The Genealogy of City Space in “Boyz N the Hood” and “Menace II Society”
  • Notes
  • Boyz N The Hood: A Colonial Analysis
  • African Americans and the Colonial Dialectic
  • The Real Criminal
  • What’s in a Name?
  • Black on Black Violence: Instrumental and Auto-Destruction
  • Diagnostic Analysis and Treatment
  • Note
  • References
  • Two Takes on Boyz N the Hood
  • Movie Reviews
  • “A Gritty ‘Boyz N the Hood’ Ushers in a New Phase of Cinema”
  • “A Chance to Confound Fate”
  • “Boyz N the Hood” (R)
  • “Boyz N the Hood” (R)
  • Further Reading
  • References
  • Epilogue: Boyz and the Blues: A Legacy of Resistance and Hope
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →

Figures P.1–P.2 and E.1: “Emerging Man,” Harlem, New York, 1952. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation. Copyright © The Gordon Parks Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprint by permission

Figure 1.1: Portrait of John Singleton. Publicity still portrait of American film director John Singleton, 1995. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images).

Figure 1.2: Directors John Singleton and Spike Lee attending the New York premiere of Boyz N the Hood on July 8, 1991 at Loew’s Astor Plaza Theater in New York City, New York. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage).

Figure 1.3: John Singleton and Laurence Fishburne on Boyz set. Lobby Card. Courtesy of Getty Images. All rights reserved.

Figure 2.1: Writer and Director John Singleton and young actors in 1991. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Aaron Rappaport/Corbis via Getty Images).

Figure 2.2: Ice Cube as Darin “Dough Boy” Baker. Courtesy of Steve Nicolaides. ← ix | x →

Figure 2.3: One sheet movie poster, Boyz N the Hood. Columbia Pictures. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images).

Figure 2.4: Laurence Fishburne (Furious Style), Desi Arnez Hines II (Tre Styles), Angela Bassett (Reva Devereaux). Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Figure 3.1: Director John Singleton Honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage).

Figure 3.2: Director John Singleton Honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage).

Figure 3.3: Director John Singleton Honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage).

Figure 3.4: 69th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards—Arrivals Beverly Hills, CA. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images).

Figure 3.5: One sheet movie poster advertises “Poetic Justice” (Columbia Pictures). Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images).

Figure 3.6: Portrait of film director John Singleton, taken on the Columbia Studios lot in Los Angeles, California, 1994. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images). Reprint by permission. All rights reserved.

Figure 4.1: Steve Nicolaides and John Singleton at Austin Film Festival. Courtesy of Steve Nicolaides.

Figure 4.2: Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Singleton. “Boyz In The Hood” Press Conference—January 9, 1992. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage). Reprint by permission. All rights reserved.

Figure 4.3: 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. (L-R) Elvis Mitchell, producer Steve Nicolaides, director John Singleton, actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and producer ← x | xi → Stephanie Allain speak at the ‘Boyz N the Hood’ 20th anniversary screening Q&A. Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE on June 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Courtesy of Getty Images. Reprint by permission. All rights reserved

Figure 5.1: City. From left, Tyra Ferrell (as Wanda Jenkins) and Valerie Harper (as Liz Gianni), in the television comedy City. Image dated January 1, 1990. Courtesy of Getty Images (CBS via Getty Images).

Figure 5.2: Actress Tyra Ferrell attends the VH1 Big in 2015 with Entertainment Weekly Awards at Pacific Design Center on November 15, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. Courtesy of Getty Images (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic). Reprint by permission. All rights reserved.

Figures 6.1–6.20: Original Press Kit. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. Copyright © Columbia Pictures. Reprint by permission. All rights reserved.

“Between Apocalypse and Redemption: John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood,” by Michael Eric Dyson, was previously published in Cultural Critique, No. 21 (Spring, 1992), pp. 121–141. Copyright © University of Minnesota Press.

Mapping the Hood: The Genealogy of City Space in “Boyz N the Hood” and “Menace II Society,” by Paula J. Massood, was previously published in Cinema Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Winter, 1996), pp. 85–97. Copyright © University of Texas Press.

“Boyz N the Hood: A Colonial Analysis,” by James Nadell, was previously published in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 25, No. 4 (March 1995), pp. 447–464. © 1995 Sage Publications.

Two Takes on Boyz N the Hood, by Thomas Doherty and Jacquie Jones, was previously published in Cineaste, Vol. 18, Issue 4 (December 1991), pp. 16–19, 4 pp. Copyright © Cineaste.

“A Gritty ‘Boyz N the Hood’ Ushers in a New Phase of Cinema,” by Kenneth Turan, was previously published in The Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1991. © The Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. ← xi | xii →

“A Chance to Confound Fate,” by Janet Maslin, was previously published in The New York Times, July 12, 1991. © The New York Times. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

“‘Boyz N the Hood’ (R),” by Desson Howe, was previously published in The Washington Post, July 12, 1991. © The Washington Post. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

“‘Boyz N the Hood’ (R),” by Rita Kempley, was previously published in The Washington Post, July 12, 1991. © The Washington Post. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

| xiii →

They are several people I owe a debt of gratitude. I could not have completed this text without your generosity of heart. I am grateful indeed.

Special thanks to—

John Singleton: Thank you for being so generous with your time and granting me access to your heart and creative spirit. You inspire me!

Shelia Morgan-Ward: I am so appreciative of you. First, for facilitating the opportunity to connect with John and supporting the central focus of the book. Second, for being so beautiful! Thank you for gifting me with a glimpse into the strength and encouragement John speaks so openly and fondly of.

Dr. Cornel West: Thank you for your critical work that stretches me and keeps me in touch with my head and heart. I am grateful to you for taking the time to encourage me. Incredible!

Dr. Donald Bogle: I have been steeped in your work for nearly two decades now. I could not do any of the work I do without including your scholarship as a framing resource. Thank you for being so kind and supportive, for literally cheering me on toward completion. I really needed your thoughtful words of encouragement. ← xiii | xiv →

Tyra Ferrell: What a precious gift you are! Thank you for sharing your journey with me and making me feel like family. I learned so much from your thoughtful reflection. Your story is arresting.

Steve Nicolaides: One word, wow! I cannot begin to tell you how much fun I had speaking with you. Your clarity, reflection, joy, humor, advocacy, and passion for storytelling leaps off the page. Thank you for accepting this invitation.

Gordon Parks Foundation: I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to include these amazing images in the book. Thank you!

Elvis Mitchell: Thank you for all that you do in the arts and entertainment. You are an invaluable resource.

Damon McCaskill: Much love, family. Thank you for the finishing touches.

For the images and critical resources, a special thanks to—

Columbia Pictures

Margarita Diaz and Gilbert Emralino, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Cassie Blake, Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences Film Archive

Maria Barrera

Getty Images


Cineaste, Cinema Journal, Cultural Critique, and Journal of Black Studies

The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post

Special thanks to Pepperdine University colleagues

Vice Provost, Dr. Lee Kats

Provost, Dr. Rick Marrs

Assistant Provost for Research, Katy Carr

Seaver Research Council (SRC) and SRC Grant

Office of Research and Strategic Initiatives

Academic Year Undergraduate Research Initiative (AYURI)

Payson Library, Pepperdine University

Professor Sally Bryant: Thank you for being such a support and invaluable resource.

Undergraduate Research Assistants: Olivia Robinson and Brittany New

| xv →

I am a native Angelino and have an affinity for my town, Los Angeles. I am one of those native born that cannot imagine living anywhere else in the world—not because I have not been anywhere else, because I have, but because I love this town. Its crooked palm trees that lean from the repeated heavy evening breezes, the oh-so-delightful 70° weather even in our “winters,” the vibrant citrus fruit available every month of the year, the salty air that wreaks havoc on the exterior of buildings casting a slightly dilapidated air of coastal living, and now, even the dearth of water, as we exit our fifth year of drought, that makes rainy days all the more grace-filled, speaks of home to me. LA has a certain je ne sais quoi. Its richness of cultural diversity and artsy landscape resonates with who I am and who I am becoming.

Ironically, I did not quite understand the profundity of this resolute spirit until I experienced Crash (2004). I knew it in my head, but discovered it as a deep abiding presence in my heart. Some films I watch, but this one I experienced. After screening it, I wept bitterly—all the way out of the theater to my car as I gestured goodbye to my friend who was eager to discuss my response, but I could not. I cried all the way home as I drove through the canyon to Los Angeles from the valley. Initially, after I settled down, I thought perhaps I was disturbed that ← xv | xvi → Peter (Larenz Tate), a young black male, dies senselessly at the end of the film to prove a disturbing point, compounded by the fact that the actor Larenz Tate who “dies” is a dear childhood friend (his brothers, Larron and Lahmard Tate were like family to me. He was the baby amongst us then). I knew it was not that simple, but I could not articulate what I was feeling for some time.

It took me over a year to figure out why the film affected me so deeply. I realized I had a hard time coming to terms with the reality that my Los Angeles was depicted as being so bitterly divided and wrestling with racism, sexism, and classism in such a destructive—dehumanizing—way. I thought, “After all, Los Angeles was not Spike Lee’s Brooklyn in Do The Right Thing (1989) whose mise-en-scène radiated sweltering heat to evoke the seething underbelly of racial tension in that cloistered community.” Or, was it? I was confounded, “Surely Lee’s disruptive Brechtian montage of racial epitaphs in the middle of the film, after Mookie and Pino argue about the definition of what black is and ain’t, does not pertain to me.” In the end, I realized I needed to come to terms with this capricious Los Angeles Crash posits as broken and listless from its lack of capacity to love. My guttural moaning was about the disturbing depiction of Tate’s fictive demise at the end of the narrative and admittedly, my close connection with him and his family from childhood. It was an unsettling thing to witness and understand the import of. Peter, the character, was a beautiful, articulate, yet misguided young man who had a future ahead of him and a family who loved him. He was murdered by a naïve and skittish officer of the law who intended to do Peter a favor by giving him a ride to his next destination (and in this case, death).

This ironic and epiphanic moment with Crash about Los Angeles was pivotal for me. I had to contend with the fictive space I created about this—beautifully diverse, cool-quirky, fresh breakfast egg-white-omelet with spinach—town I love.

After Crash, I discovered Boyz, literally and figuratively. I knew of the devastating reality of gang violence and the terror that became a blight on the city in the 1980s, but never spent any deep reflective time wrestling with the impact of this reality on all the lives involved, including my own.

When John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood (1991) was released, I was too oblivious, far too distant from the narrative as an artsy eclectic loner to even think to go see the film. I initially screened Boyz about a decade after its 1991 release and found it gripping, but when I taught the film in an upper division film class to undergraduates, after my described reality check in 2004 by Crash, I came to understand it viscerally. Coupled with the heady institutional/sociocultural academic “stuff” in my consciousness, with my whimsical notions of Los Angeles in ← xvi | xvii → check, I truly understood the funk that Boyz signifies and signifies on (through its use of classical cinematic language, yet through its black socio-political and historical frame). It caused me to touch upon deep-rooted—communal and ancestral—emotional stuff. When I consciously connected the reality in Boyz with my own, the blues came down on me like the heavy marine layer that situates itself over the Los Angeles skyline during what we call “June Gloom”—the kind of cloudy midst that the sun at high noon in SoCal cannot burn away. I liken this experience with Boyz to what Dr. Cornel West calls the “embodiment of the blues lyrically expressed.” I could hear what Singleton hoped to evoke through cinematic language with melodious precision. Singleton’s pitch-perfect filmic plaintive provocation is as poet, Langston Hughes, in his iconic poem, “The Weary Blues” describes as “Sweet blues! Coming from a black man’s soul. / O Blues!” Singleton “with his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano [Boyz] moan with melody. O’Blues!”

Hearing—feeling—Boyz required me to discover my own brother’s plight as a young black man in Los Angeles and why he chose to flee to Texas, in his early twenties; how he left LA hoping to find his voice and a life beyond the narrow options he felt he was being pressed into. I grew up hearing the same helicopters (featured in Boyz as ambient sounds) over my head at our house on the west side of mid-city Los Angeles, bordering Culver City, but never imagined that the city was under siege, that the whirling sounds that imminently echoed above encroached upon the value of my brother and father’s lives, their dignity. Sometime in the early evenings, while lounging in the living room area, I could feel the illumination of the helicopter’s spotlight, its beams turning its fixed radius our way, signaling pursuit, but I felt safe. Apparently, my beliefs and desires had legs and evidenced a kind of willfulness, expectation, fruition, while my brother’s did not, could not. I was utterly unaware of my own brother’s burgeoning nightmare right before my eyes. Our contrasting journeys that emerged from the same household, in the same town, points to the precarious nature of this metroplex, like countless others in this nation that historically evidence an anxiety-filled labyrinth for young black men and women. The chasm between hope and despair is a reality for many, especially young black males.

Sure, I am still resolute about my intended lifelong relationship with this town, but its paradoxical splendor is a bitter pill to swallow. The reality is, in Crash, Peter (the character) could have been my brother, could have been Dough Boy, Ricky, or Tre (characters in Boyz). Crash’s closing sequence is disturbing. The depiction of the police officer setting his car ablaze, knowing that Peter’s lifeless ← xvii | xviii → body will be used as fodder for the flames, while shortly after the audience witnesses young boys chucking loose pieces of wood into the flames for amusement, touches too closely to reality—the statistics are staggering. Upon this reflection, Dough Boy, Ricky, Tre, and Los Angeles’s late 1980s hip-hop ethos came alive for me—with a resounding indictment on structural/institutional levels, too many to delineate in such a brief reflection. And the question still remains, what am I going to do about it? What are we going to do about it? And, what has John Singleton done about this blues existence?

| xix →


XXVI, 442
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXVI, 442 pp., 35 color ill., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Joi Carr (Author)

Joi Carr is a Professor of English and Film Studies at Pepperdine University, Seaver College, currently serving as the Director of Film Studies and Creative/Program Director of the Multicultural Theatre Project (an interdisciplinary art-based critical pedagogy). She received her PhD from Claremont Graduate University.


Title: Boyz N the Hood