When the 22-year-old director John Singleton was reportedly offered $100,000 to back away from directing his 1991 feature film, Boyz n the Hood, the newly minted film-school graduate balked in the Columbia Pictures office. “I said, ‘Well, we have to end this meeting right now because I’m doing this movie,’” Singleton recalled in a 2003 documentary about the film, Friendly Fire: Making an Urban Legend. “This is the movie that I was born to make.”
The director, who died Monday afternoon at the age of 51, stunned studio executives and audiences alike with the nuanced drama about a group of young black men growing up in South Central Los Angeles. The film was released in the months following the videotaped beating of Rodney King, and subsequently served a dual function: For many black viewers, Boyz was one of precious few cinematic representations directed by someone with a personal knowledge of—and investment in—the wrenching material on-screen. For others watching, the film was both emotionally gripping and explanatory without being didactic.
Singleton would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for directing in 1992, becoming the first African American—and the youngest person of any race—to receive the distinction, at only 24. “I always feel like I got nominated because Spike [Lee] was passed over for Do the Right Thing,” the director told The Hollywood Reporter last year during a roundtable conversation among the only four African American directors to have been nominated for the award at that point. (Singleton was also nominated for a screenwriting Oscar in 1992, and the prolific Lee would go on to win the Best Adapted Screenplay award at the 2019 Oscars, for BlacKkKlansman.)