The Boyz Next Door
Up until the early 1990s, the decay of inner-city America largely went unnoticed by the general American public. However, the rise in popularity of gangster rap and the release of such films as New Jack City and Menace II Society drew the publics’ attention toward the largely ignored urban areas. Of all the films in the genre that came out, though, one in particular stood out. Boyz N the Hood, directed by John Singleton, became widely acknowledged as the definitive film for inner-city African Americans. Regardless of age, race, or religion, the film’s powerful and gritty imagery captivated audiences nationwide. Though many Americans had a general idea of the rough lifestyle endured by many inner-city dwellers, the situation wasn’t fully exploited until a film, such as Boyz N the Hood provided truly realistic imagery to go along with the verbal descriptions many had heard in rap songs. As author John Berger stated in the article “Ways of Seeing,” “It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it” (Berger 134). In a sense, Boyz N the Hood became the imagery necessary for many people to fully comprehend a lifestyle they had never been exposed to. Though many people had heard of the rough life style experienced by many inner-city teens, the film became the visual the country need to truly recognize how rough it was to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of many of these teens. Unfortunately, it took a fictional film to bring to light, and raise awareness for, the many problems facing inner-city African Americans.
Boyz N the Hood focuses on the lives of three young men growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Tre Styles is a very intelligent teenager, yet still needs the guidance of his father, Furious, in order to resist to falling into many of the traps that commonly swallow the lives of young black men in the area. Doughboy represents the more stereotypical inner-city male. Throughout his life Doughboy has been in and out of institutions. Seemingly having accepted the fact the he is leading a doomed lifestyle; Doughboy spends his days on the front porch of his house drinking malt liquor. Lastly, the story follows Ricky the younger brother of Doughboy. Athletically gifted, Ricky is receiving looks from all the powerhouse football programs, yet doesn’t have the SAT scores to gain admittance into the schools. Throughout the film, the trio is forced to overcome many obstacles, from the gang violence that runs rampant in the area to the racial struggles that still plague society, in order to rise above and hopefully someday leave the inner-city.
When the film was released in 1991, the United States was in a state of turmoil. The AIDS pandemic was fully heightened, with celebrities such as Magic Johnson and Freddie Mercury announcing they had contracted the disease. Urban areas rioted everywhere in response to an amateur cameraman captured the brutal beating of Rodney King by several Los Angeles police officers. From coast to coast, racial tensions were at their most prevalent since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Globally, the world was changing as well as the once powerful Soviet Union fell apart. Due to these very tense times, the themes displayed in Boyz N the Hood registered particularly hard with many Americans as they were experiencing many of the same problems at the time of the film’s release. In some areas, the films message hit so hard that riots broke out at theaters. As stated in the article, “Screening Race: Responses to Theater Violence at New Jack City and Boyz N the Hood”, author Laura Baker states, “The press again widely reported on assaults and one homicide associated with the exhibition of Boyz N the Hood at approximately 20 of the 829 theaters screening the film. The worst of these occurred at the Halsted Twin Outdoor Theater in the...
Cited: Baker, Laura. “Screening race: responses to theater violence at New Jack City and Boyz N the Hood.” Velvet Light Trap. Fall 1999: 4-16
Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005. 134-155.
Bordo, Susan. “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005. 168-213.
Boyz N the Hood. Dir. John Singleton. Perf. Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut. Columbia, 1991.
Henry, Matthew. “He is a "Bad Mother*S%@!#": Shaft and Contemporary Black Masculinity.” African American Review. Vol. 38 (2004): 119-127
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