Movie Review #856: As biting and fresh as it was in 1991, ‘Boyz n the Hood’ shows us how misconceptions about socioeconomic and race problems can lead to terrible tragedies.
By Red Stewart
|Rated R (contains violence, profanity, mild sexual content)|
I recall someone once saying that when a white man commits a crime, he alone is charged, whereas if a black man commits a crime, the entire race is accused. I’m regrettably reminded of a day in my youth when some punks broke a window in the school bus I was riding, causing glass to go into my sister’s eye, and I personally blamed the entire ethnicity of the culprits in a moment of emotional fury.
But “Boyz n the Hood” isn’t really about racism in the mainstream sense. There are almost no white characters, and the ones that do appear don’t play the role of a bigot. It instead focuses on the bigger socioeconomic issues and how overlooking the problems prevalent in these poorer communities lead to the endangerment of many adolescents.
The film is divided into two interconnected parts; the past and the present. Tre Styles is an intelligent kid unfortunately burdened with a bad temper that gets him into a lot of fights. Fearing that continuing down this path will lead him into a life or death situation, Tre’s mom sends him to live with his divorced father, Furious, where he reunites with old friends “Doughboy” Baker, Ricky Baker, and Chris. Seven years later, Tre has become a responsible teenager because of Furious’s parenting, whereas Doughboy and Chris have fallen into the gangster life.
“Boyz n the Hood” tells us in the beginning that 1 out of 21 black American males will die, most likely at the hands of another black American male. It’s a startling statistic that casts a gloomy shadow from the beginning as you know all these characters are in danger every day of their life. This is a place where you band together not just for the sake of protection, but also to ensure you’re avenged in the event that you are killed. Director/writer John Singleton’s own experiences of growing up here more than resonate in the urban world of the film, from the gang-ridden neighborhoods to the perceived stigma of leaving behind your blood brothers for a different life.
The greatest thing he does with “Boyz n the Hood”, however, is have this parental reflection that only adds to the sadness of the film. Furious has lived through this ghetto romanticism and seen all there is to that world; teen girls get impregnated by irresponsible jerks, the police have a “West Side Story”-bias, businesses treat citizens of the hood like a commodity, city blacks turn into Uncle Toms, and violence is the only masculine answer accepted by society. He doesn’t want Tre to fall prey to that life, but at the same time Tre feels he has an obligation to his friends. The contrast plays up the drama naturally, and all the actors channel their evident past familiarities with the conflict excellently.
While it might seem like the film is about the effects of violence on the youth, at its core “Boyz n the Hood” is a coming-of-age story set in a poor neighborhood. Considering the tame upbringing many of us went through, it’s a real eye-opener that painfully resonates to this day. Having gone to a high school that acted as a melting pot between the wealthier counties and the hood, I feel terrible for ever giving in to the many stereotypes that roamed the halls back then. This is a must-see film.