Critically acclaimed filmmaker John Singleton dies at 51

Free Press wire report | 5/3/2019, 6 a.m.
Director John Singleton, who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated “Boyz N the Hood” and continued ...
A memorial wreath stands on John Singleton’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. The 51-year-old director died Monday, April 29, 2019, after suffering several strokes. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

John Singleton

John Singleton


Director John Singleton, who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated “Boyz N the Hood” and continued over the following decades to probe the lives of African-American communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond, died Monday, April 29, 2019, after suffering several strokes during the last two weeks. He was 51.

Mr. Singleton’s family said he died in Los Angeles, surrounded by family and friends, after being taken off life support. Earlier this month, he suffered a major stroke.

Mr. Singleton was in his early 20s and just out of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts when he wrote, directed and produced “Boyz N the Hood.” Based on Mr. Singleton’s upbringing and shot in his old neighborhood, the low-budget production starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube and Moris Chestnut, and centered on three friends in South Central Los Angeles, where college aspirations competed with the pressures of gang life.

“Boyz N the Hood” was a critical and commercial hit, given a 20-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and praised as a groundbreaking extension of rap to the big screen, a realistic and compassionate take on race, class, peer pressure and family. Mr. Singleton would later call it a “rap album on film.”

For many, the 1991 release captured the explosive mood in Los Angeles in the months following the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. “Boyz N the Hood” also came out at a time when, thanks to the efforts to Spike Lee and others, films by and about African-Americans were starting to get made by Hollywood after a long absence.

With the film, Mr. Singleton became the first African-American director to receive an Academy Award nomination, an honor he would say was compensation for the academy’s snubbing Mr. Lee and “Do the Right Thing” two years earlier. The film also was nominated for best screenplay. (“Thelma & Louise” won instead.) At 24, Mr. Singleton also was the youngest director nominee in Oscar history.

“I think I was living this film before I ever thought about making it,” Mr. Singleton told Vice in 2016. “As I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, and cinema became an option, it was just natural that this was probably gonna be my first film.”

In 2002, “Boyz N the Hood” was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which called it “an innovative look at life and the tough choices present for kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles.”

None of Mr. Singleton’s subsequent movies received the acclaim of “Boyz N the Hood” and he was criticized at times for turning characters into mouthpieces for political and social messages. But he attracted talent ranging from Tupac Shakur to Don Cheadle and explored themes of creative expression (“Poetic Justice”), identity (“Higher Learning”) and the country’s racist past, notably in “Rosewood,” based on a murderous white rampage against a black community in Florida in 1923.