I was doing a spot of writing last night when “John Singleton Dead At 51” popped up on my news feed. I didn’t pay it much attention to it because of the age mentioned, I didn’t think it could be the same John Singleton I’m thinking of as he was older… so I thought.
Sadly it was the same John Singleton.
I don’t know, I always just thought he was older in his late 60s/early 70s, and there’s a reason why I thought that too – which I’ll get to later.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1968, Singleton. He lived on the streets and knew some of the characters from his films personally. His life could’ve gone in a very different direction, he could have gone the easy route and turned to crime… but he didn’t Singleton chose films and graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1990. The next year he wrote and directed his first film. Through the early 90s and Singleton made big waves.
1993’s Poetic Justice starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur told the story of Justice (Jackson) who after the death of her boyfriend falls into depression. She begins writing poetry as a form of therapy. Enter Lucky (Shakur) and after a rocky start, the two become close. They go on a road trip with their friends and soon discover how much they have in common. Poetic Justice is an okay film, it’s not bad, it’s not great. But it’s certainly watchable.
Higher Learning from 1995 is a film following the lives of three freshmen at Columbus University and how their lives intertwine, leading to a bloody and shocking resolve. A film very much of it’s age and one you’d have great difficulty in getting made today. Definitely one of Singleton’s best.
1997’s Rosewood was a departure from Singleton’s style and tone. This was based on a true story, that of the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida. With an impressive cast including; Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Jon Voight and Michael Rooker. When a small town becomes the target for racists, the residents learn to stand up for themselves and fight back. Things get violent and bloody as the small town fight escalates into riots. Rosewood wasn’t a commercial success, it lost money. But critics loved it and rightly so, with some claiming it to be Singleton’s best film. Well worth watching.
In 2000, Singleton brought back one of cinema’s greatest characters…
Shaft… not a remake as many people erroneously claim of the 1970s films but a sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson plays the nephew of the original John Shaft from the 70s flicks. The original Shaft is even in this film. When NYPD cop John Shaft (Jackson) investigates a clearly racially motivated murder and the killer gets off due to his connections, Shaft quits the force and becomes a private detective (just like his uncle). He then takes to the streets to track down and bring the killer to his own brand of justice.
Shaft was a cracking flick. It was hardly high art, but it wasn’t aiming to be. It’s an action romp and Jackson playing John Shaft is amazing. The film was so good that only a short nineteen years later and it’s getting a sequel (confusingly) also called Shaft with three generations of Shafts kicking ass. Though John Singleton had nothing to do with this one…
Singleton’s career continued through the 2000s as a writer, director and producer with films like Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers and Abduction to name a few all with varying degrees of success. In the later years, Singleton turned his talent to T.V. directing episodes of Empire, American Crime Story and Billions. He even co-created, wrote, directed and produced the T.V. show Snowfall. Oh and he directed the Michael Jackson (I’m not afraid to use his name) music video Remember the Time in 1992.
Of course there’s one film I’ve not yet mentioned, John’s first from 1991 and the reason I always thought of him as being older…
Boyz N The Hood was one of those early 90s “gangsta” flicks that were popping up everywhere back then. There was this surge of black, urban films doing the rounds as gangsta rap exploded on the scene and most of the films were terrible. Some were good and a very small number were amazing. Boyz N The Hood fell into the latter. The film was and still is genius and for me John Singleton’s best ever film… sadly. I mean that as it’s a shame he’ll never get the chance to try and better it.
The film tells the tale of childhood friends Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Darrin “Doughboy” (Ice Cube), Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Chris (Kenneth A. Brown) living and growing up in South Central, Los Angeles. The film starts in 1984 and shows the friends dong what 10 year old boys do… getting into trouble. The film jumps forward to 1991 with the kids now grown up and young men. Their friendship is tested and it looks like the boys might be splitting up for various reasons especially with both Tre and Ricky wanting to better themselves and get away from the life of crime that Doughboy and Chris seem to enjoy.
With an impressive cast including; Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Nia Long. Honestly, this flick is brilliant. This is Singleton at his rawest, he was only twenty three at the time and yet he wrote and directed this? For someone of such a young age, that’s impressive. That is why I had always though of Singleton as being older, because this film does not feel like a person just out if his twenties wrote and directed it. This flick feels like a much older man as behind it and I mean that in a respectful way. I’ve seen films from people who have been in the industry for decades that are not as well written and directed as Boyz N The Hood. There’s a lot of maturity here, a lot of pathos. A level of experience with emotions I thought came from a man in his late thirties/early forties not someone who was aged just twenty three. You want to know what I was dong at that age? Not writing and directing such a brilliant film. I love this flick so much that I have it playing as I write this…
Singleton was and still is the youngest person to ever be nominated for a directors Oscar as well as being the first black man (no I’m not using the term “African-American” as I don’t see an issue with colour. Love your skin man) too for this film. Sadly he didn’t win, he lost out to The Silence of the Lambs (directing) and Thelma & Louise (screenplay). And as great as those two films are, they are nothing compared to Boyz N The Hood. The Oscar board were wrong, so very, very wrong.
Singleton suffered a stoke on 17th of April, 2019 and was placed in intensive care. He fell into a coma on the 25th and on the 29th, he was taken off life support and died aged just fifty one.
John Singleton changed black cinema forever and his influence will be felt for many years to come. The boy from the hood did good.
“The cinema saved me from being a delinquent. I could have been, but I didn’t get caught up. I never was going to get arrested or anything.”
– John Singleton