John Singleton’s urban classic, Boyz n the Hood (1991), ushered in a sub-genre of film that focused specifically on black men coming-of-age in the hood.
Though interracial sex is the overarching theme in Jungle Fever (1991), it’s hard to overlook the way drugs (among other things) tear asunder two brothers— Flipper (Wesley Snipes), an architect, and Gator (Samuel L. Jackson), a drug addict.
In the film South Central (1992), gangs have replaced the traditional black family. This film chronicles the vicious cycle of crime, poverty, and incarceration that threatens the next generation of black men.
While Menace II Society (1993) portrays the harshness of urban life in South Central, LA — it like a number of other thematically similar film — was a cliché doing little to advance the conversation on the subject of what it means to come-of-age in the ‘hood.
Poetic Justice (1993) is about an aloof poem-writing-hair-dresser (Janet Jackson) and her unlikely main squeeze (Tupac Shakur) that delivers mail by day and plans to produce music with his cousin. Abbreviated plot summary: They fight, take a road trip, she clips his dirty nails and they fall in love.
Jason’s Lyric (1994) presents a fatalistic view of the hood. There’s no escape from where you grow up or the heap of trouble your siblings entangle you in. Jada Pinkett Smith and Allen Payne give remarkable performances. Amid the violence and predictable plot, there are some memorable love scenes.
Higher Learning (1995) proves that the hood isn’t the only place to watch your back. On the fictional campus of Columbus University white hate groups abound staging a massacre. It’s a fine companion to Boyz n the Hood, probably one of John Singleton’s most underrated films.
Though Panther (1995) reveals the rough conditions of living in the hood, it does so without portraying black folks as victims, instead, we see black men and women toting guns in black leathers, feeding and educating children with the most beautiful afros.
Dead Presidents (1995) is not your typical war hero story. It follows Anthony Curtis (Lorenz Tate), a war veteran, who struggles to support himself and family and ultimately turns to a life of crime.
Set it Off (1996) puts a black feminist spin on the hood narrative that dominated the 90s. Four women struggling to get out of their dead-end lives resort to robbing banks. Only Stony (Jada Pinkett Smith) escapes at the conclusion of the film. Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, and Jada Pinkett Smith really show their acting chops
Finding Forrester (2000) departs from the typical coming-of-age hood flick, but sadly, not from the American racial narrative. Academically talented black teenager, Jamal Wallace (who of course plays ball), aspires to be a writer. The film quickly collapses into an all-too-familiar tale of how a liberal-minded benevolent grumpy white dude saves this ghetto (fatherless) teen.
Baby Boy (2001) lives up to its title making a critique on how one young black man in the hood raised in single female-headed homes doesn’t mature into a responsible adult. It lacks the diversity of Singleton’s seminal work, Boyz n the Hood, but adds to his formidable catalog, making a jab or two at social commentary.
If you find Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996) a tad ridiculous it’s probably because it was, as were so many of the films of this era—carbon copy storylines lacking nuance, amounting to a gun-filled count down of the protagonist — usually a young black male — getting shot, and the saga continues.
Hustle & Flow (2005) makes no bones about showing the limited options for black folks in the hood, however exaggerated and stereotypical. In the world of the film, you’re either a pimp or a prostitute. That this film was made is a commentary on how much progress black cinema has made (or didn’t) in the past twenty years.
Precious (2009) depicts the parts of the hood that no one wants to talk about — mental illness, sexual abuse, HIV-AIDS, and what it means to be black, female, and at the margins — though painful to watch, it’s a good companion to Boyz n the Hood, though it lacks the diversity of characters that Singleton’s seminal film has.
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This week marks 20 years since John Singleton wrote and directed his seminal film, Boyz n the Hood, which was nominated for best director and original screenplay at the Academy Awards in 1991, making him the youngest person ever and the first African-American to receive this distinction.
Shortly after Boyz n the Hood scores of film emerged around the heading of what Wikipedia calls “hood films”. Films like Set It Off, Dead Presidents, Higher Learning, Jason’s Lyric and Menace II Society — just to name a few.
One of the virtues of Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood is its gritty portrayal of South Central, Los Angeles while showing a diversity of characters—from the single-mom going back to school and the politically conscious father to the four children who lead radically different lives as adults. Which sadly, most films form this era didn’t bother to do relying mostly on flat characters and predictable storylines.
In tribute to John Singleton’s groundbreaking film, theGrio has put together a list of 15 films that continue, revises or departs radically from the theme of surviving and/or getting out of the hood.