Legendary filmmaker John Singleton of Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning fame, is no stranger to authentic, timeless stories of lower-middle class Black America.
He is after all, a product of the types of stories he streams into the American consciousness.
A native of South Los Angeles, Singleton was the youngest and first Black director nominated for an Academy Award, at age 24.
When Singleton was making “Boyz N the Hood” in the early 90s, the industry was void of portrayals of Black life. Studios were not confident that there would be an audience for them. Singleton faced challenges getting movie execs to green-light the now iconic film starring Morris Chestnut, Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.
Now, 25 years later, he notes that there are more Black films, but less Black voices involved with telling authentic stories.
“They ain’t letting the Black people tell the stories,” Singleton told students at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television in Los Angeles.
“They want Black people to be what they want them to be as opposed to what they are,” he said. “The Black films now – so-called Black films now – they’re great, but they’re just product. They’re not moving the bar forward creatively.”
Singleton said, “Boys N the Hood” was so successful because he didn’t make it for everyone. He realized that telling the most accurate story would exclude those who had no interest in Black life on that level.
“When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don’t have anything that’s special.”
Singleton was interviewed Wednesday by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway as part of The Hollywood Masters interview series.
Galloway asked Singleton how to fix the problem he publicly identified and had addressed in a December Hollywood Reporter op-ed piece. His response was that studios should hire more Black people who are willing to be voices and not just faces filling a position.
“You’ve got a lot of Black executive at the studio who are afraid to give their opinion about what Black culture is,” Singleton said. He continued, “There’s no Stephanie Allains,” referring to the former Columbia exec and producer who fought to get “Boyz N the Hood” produced. “Stephanie Allain kicked and screamed to get Boyz N the Hood made. Those people don’t exist anymore, whether they’re Black, white or whatever.”
Singleton is currently gearing up to produce a highly anticipated biopic on activist rapper, Tupac Shakur.
Shakur, who starred in the filmmakers’ 1993 drama “Poetic Justice” and was his choice to star in “Baby Boy,” was a great influence to Singleton. Of his death Singleton said,
“It set my life on a whole other trajectory. I went and left the country for about a month. I just couldn’t cope”… he said. “I felt, the danger ain’t sexy anymore. I got to change it up, not necessarily just as a filmmaker, but just as a person, and kind of grow up.”