Boyz N The Hood. (12A.)
Directed by John Singleton. 1991.
Starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr, Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Nia Long and Angela Bassett. Re-released to mark its 25th anniversary and as part of the BFI's Black Star season. 107 mins.
The film opens with the sound of young black males mothereffing and blinding over the traditional Columbia Studio the lady with the torch logo. The message is clear: this is a break from the norm, a bold new voice and bold new experience. Next is the statistic, 1 out of every 21 black males in the United States will be murdered, usually by another black male. I'm old enough to remember the enormous hype surrounding its initial release: that this was a radical new talent showing us the reality of life in South Central LA. I can also remember the disappointment in going to see it and realising that this was basically a Disney film.
There are some harrowing touches and insights, and the reality of living against a constant backdrop of sirens, gunfire and police helicopters is forcefully put across. Outside of that, the basic story is a straightforward one of young people trying to make their way in the world and triumphing, or not, against adversity. The backdrop may be new and the language coarser, but its dramatic strategies and tear stained tragedies are tried and tested, and not done with any special elan.
The film is best in its first third, set in 1984 when we meet the younger versions of the main characters. Singleton shoots this as a homage to his favourite film Stand By Me, and in these scenes he has a real film. Later on it become hampered by its need to be important.
Boyz may be a landmark movie but it isn't a great one, and though the ending invites us to Increase The Peace, the film lasting significance has been to introduce, or reinforce a template for gangster rap promos. A few years after I would find myself on Saturday mornings watching Yo MTV Raps! where every other video seemed to be have people in bouncing cars in South Central, strutting around with guns and I don't remember being nice to each other figuring much in their rhymes, even though half of them were called Ice.