On April 29, shortly after his family made the difficult decision of stopping life support, acclaimed filmmaker John Daniel Singleton passed away at the age of 51. Singleton experienced tingling of his lower limbs upon returning from a trip to Costa Rica, where he had thoroughly enjoyed the natural beauty of that Central American country; he later suffered a massive stroke and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The director is survived by his parents and seven children; moreover, he will always be remembered for his work breaking down ethnic barriers in Hollywood.
Born and raised in Los Angeles in the midst of the American counterculture revolution of the 1960s, Singleton was deeply moved by childhood films such as “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” As a young man, he was interested in the rise of personal computing technology, but he eventually decided to study film writing at the University of Southern California. His first feature film was more than just a breakthrough. “Boyz n the Hood” starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Laurence Fishburne was one of the three ideas he submitted when applying to USC. The original title was “Summer of 84” because the plot was based on Singleton’s personal experience. This 1991 film resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Director, a historic first for an African-American filmmaker. Singleton also became the youngest director nominated for such a top honor.
Aside from the strong socioeconomic, cultural and political message of “Boyz n the Hood,” the movie has several endearing aspects, one of them being that Singleton was learning as he was filming. The next time you watch this film, pay close attention to the cinematography, camerawork and pacing; it gets better because Singleton was shaping himself into proficiency. The tearjerker moments of “Boyz n the Hood” could have been produced by Steven Spielberg, and this is because Singleton had been moved to tears by films such as “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” as a child.
Singleton would go on to revisit his passion for technology when he directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” which was replete with computer graphics imaging and visual effects. In the vein of “Boyz n the Hood,” Singleton would go on to direct other critically-acclaimed films with strong social messages: “Rosewood” and “Higher Learning” come to mind, but they were hardly blockbusters. By the time he got around to directing “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Singleton’s technical skills were undeniable, but many of his fans lamented his switch to action films.
Since 2002, “Boyz n the Hood” has been deemed a film worthy of the United States Library of Congress. A few years before his death, Singleton spoke before a student audience at Loyola Marymount University. He criticized a practice that has since been abandoned in Hollywood: limiting the creativity of African-American producers and directors. Thanks to Singleton’s groundbreaking film career and influence, stories on Black Culture now abound on the big screen and on TV. Thank you, John.