In 1991, at just 22-years-old, John Singleton made his directorial debut with Boyz N The Hood, a blistering coming-of-age story set against the turmoil of gang warfare in South Central Los Angeles. With its combination of gut-wrenching character drama and scathing social commentary, it was the most profitable film of 1991. A year later, Singleton would become the first African-American to receive an Oscar nod for Best Director, on top of being the youngest director ever nominated. The script also earned him a nomination. More importantly, it was Singleton's ticket out of the 'hood itself.
Boyz Done Good
"What was things like before Boyz N The Hood? It was Boyz N The Hood," says Ice Cube, who made the switch from rapper to actor after giving Singleton a ride home from a party one night. Along with Cuba Gooding Jr and many other cast and crew members, they take a nostalgic trip back to the early 90s in the fascinating documentary Friendly Fire: Making An Urban Legend.
Singleton explains that he wrote the script in the college computer room, but trying to shoot on location in South Central, LA, was a lot less cosy. Indeed, Singleton and his crew received death threats from local gang members, who demanded protection money to allow filming to continue. Laurence Fishburne was also having a difficult time: "I had to get over the fact the film wasn't about me." But soon enough the boyz (and Larry) would be reeling from the huge success of the film, both at the box office and with the movie-going public.
Johnny From The Block
Singleton wanders deeper down memory lane in a startling audio commentary. You'll be surprised at just how many scenes are lifted directly from his own experiences of growing up amid chaotic violence. "I remember on that exact block someone getting beaten up, so I wrote it," he says, making similar remarks throughout the film. You can even sense the weight of burden in Singleton's voice, which is often breathless with the effort of trying to contain so much emotion. But there are lighter moments too, like when he recalls the difficulties of wrangling with child actor: "It was a bitch!"
Although there are only two deleted scenes, they both feature highly-charged confrontations. One is a mother/son blow-out between Cuba Gooding Jr and Angela Basset, while the other sees Doughboy (Ice Cube) in a run-in with Furious (Fishburne) shortly after his brother's death. Despite the degradation of the print, these are striking scenes.
The film itself could have used a little more cleaning up for this Special Edition. Otherwise it feels just as fresh as when it was released, almost 15 years ago. Sadly John Singleton's subsequent films haven't come close to matching the success of Boyz N The Hood, which makes this two-disc DVD all the more precious.