Monday, August 4, 2014

The Essentials- "Boys N Da Hood" (1991)

The Essentials- #68

Boys N Da Hood

“One out of every twenty-one black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another black American male.”

That is a tough quote to open a film with. Especially appearing over a black screen as we hear arguing, cursing, gunshots, 911 calls, and a young voice crying about his brother being shot. Then we finally see live action movement on the screen. It is the best opening to film without showing any actual actors. By that time “Boys N Da Hood” is already off and running and barely anything has happened in the film yet. And no, I am not putting some stylish spin on the title. That is how director John Singleton stylized his title, “Boys N Da Hood” is “Boys N Da Hood.”

As the film continues to open, we meet a young Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II) walks to school and he and some friends walk by a place where a shooting occurred before going to school. The school setting is one of the most shocking scenes in the entire film, and it doesn't involve a murder or a shooting. There is a white teacher at the head of the class in front of a minority-racial classroom that is quite detached from their teacher. It is sad because the teacher doesn't even act like she cares; she never comes off like she is trying. From this early scene, we immediately recognize what Singleton is trying to do. If you think “Boys N Da Hood” is in any way racist, if you think the film adds up to nothing more than black people killing each other and acting vulgar, then you missed the point. Singleton is making a point here, and he turns his movie into a boarder-line political statement. This is an authentic portrait of a real place in our world. It is a story set in a culture in our country. But most of all, “Boys N Da Hood” is the day in the life of a harsh reality, a place where street justice is more frequent than law enforcement justice. “Boys N Da Hood” is a film about living and growing up in South Central, Los Angeles.

During that same scene at the school, Tre gets into a fight. Which is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Tre’s mother Reva (Angela Bassett), and Reva sends her son to go live with his father Furious (Lawrence Fishburne, who was going by Larry Fishburne at the time). Tre eventually grows up, (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) and we see him grow up, hanging out with his friends Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube), and his girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long). We also see Tre grow up in his father’s house. Furious is not some hard, stern, cold individual. Okay, he kind of is, but he only wants what is best for his son. Furious is an intelligent and wise man, and he radically wants to change South Central, stop young black males from destroying themselves. Take a look at the very best scene with Furious:

“Boys N Da Hood” is definitely a movie about death, but it is also a movie about hope and it is definitely a movie about the quality of life. Furious wants the best for his boy and he is a very good father. The basic premise of the movie is how Tre must work hard to build a good life for himself in a neighborhood that constantly bringing him down, and finding a way to better life beyond South Central. The film also sets up a conscience for Tre, we just never physically see an angel and a demon. Tre is constantly being thrown against a legitimate life and a life of crime and walking that tightrope is nearly unbearable for him. What makes the film work is the impeccable work done by Cuba Gooding Jr. To say that this is Gooding’s best work would be a drastic understatement. Gooding has never been this alive on camera, never this effective, never this dangerous. Gooding has never showcased so much power over a character, and since this film, he’s kind of become a joke. It is really too bad he never had another role closer to Tre, because he’d probably still be working today. If you don’t think much of Cuba Gooding Jr. and you have not seen this film, your outlook of him is about to change.

Gooding is definitely not alone; Fishburne and Bassett do very good work as Tre parents. Fishburne in particular commands the screen with a fury of absolute power. Fishburne has been great before, but this is definitely one of his best roles. The work by Chestnut and Ice Cube is some of the film’s most harrowing work though, and I give Chestnut and Cube credit for making it all real, going all the way with their characters. Ricky and Doughboy are brothers, they have the same mom, but they came from two different dads. It is clear that their mom favors Ricky over Doughboy because she liked his father better and it tears Doughboy apart. Doughboy still however loves his family still. So when something terrible happens to the family, it flattens the audience because Chestnut and Cube have become humans, not characters.

I like that through the darkness of the film, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. A hope that is the silver-lining of the whole film and I also like that there are tiny pockets of humor in the film. But most of all, “Boys N Da Hood” is an important film. I think it should be seen by everyone, a real movie about America. I think in 2014, we have come a long way from racism and disenfranchisement, but the sad truth is that it still exists. Singleton’s film urges us to look past that, and to become better individuals. I couldn’t have asked for a better message in a film.

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