The world of cinema lost an important voice in John Singleton recently. At age 51, Singleton died after suffering a stroke. While he may not be the household name that other film directors have become, he left a major impression on me, and he influenced a lot of those filmmakers we have come to love.
For me, Singleton opened my mind to the importance of race and individual roles in society. While many people will point to his breakout film Boyz n the Hood, I was impacted much more by Higher Learning. While both films are incredibly important entries into the social library of cinema, the latter highlighted the tension of race relations that, to a privileged white kid, were yet unknown.
Singleton also seemed to have an inclination for using important voices from the music world. Ice Cube and Tupac, who were both seen as “gangster” rappers, were given a chance to showcase their artistic talents and be recognized for much more than their “obscene” lyrics. In later films, Singleton would use Snoop, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, and Andre 3000. While these artists’ inclusion in his films wasn’t as important as the content of his words, it allowed the music and film worlds to meld and increase the social impact each of them had.
What was most significant about Singleton’s work was that he took an important message and packaged it in a palatable way. He basically took the content of a documentary and made it Hollywood. His characters are relatable, his settings realistic, and his stories visceral. I mean, the way he displayed South Central L.A. in Boyz n the Hood based on his own experience has been heralded as unmatched.
At the same time, in Four Brothers he was able to capture the spirit of Detroit in a way I have yet to see replicated (even in the film Detroit!). Usually my hometown is depicted as a dilapidated shell of a once great city, but Singleton shows it for what it truly is: a raw and prideful city that has Midwest principles and just a dash of swag.
While I’m not much for RIPs or Thoughts and Prayers, I do think we should take this opportunity to recognize a man who has had tremendous impact in the world of film. We should celebrate his accomplishments by viewing his art and discussing the topics he has dissected in his films. If nothing else, watch his films for entertainment purposes; they won’t disappoint.
In the meantime, here are some of the things his friends and colleagues in the industry had to say about this legend of cinema:
Farewell my filmmaking friend! Your Boyz story and your laser disc commentary inspired me back before I shot my first film. You made me believe I might be able to be like you: heard. Thank you for leading, John. Wish we had one last chance to talk comics again… #JohnSingleton pic.twitter.com/jZvCxNIIsw
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) April 29, 2019
I was discovered by a master filmmaker by the name of John Singleton. He not only made me a movie star but made me a filmmaker. There are no words to express how sad I am to lose my brother, friend & mentor. He loved bring the black experience to the world. ..Us at Cannes ‘90 pic.twitter.com/CaRKjZtjgB
— Ice Cube (@icecube) April 29, 2019
"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning." Maya Angelou. We celebrate #JohnSingleton's life and works he created by using the human voice and his vision to impact and challenge our human family. Rest in power. pic.twitter.com/Xq4e7okYjJ
— Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) April 30, 2019
John Singleton. Rest In Peace, King.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) April 30, 2019
— Reese Witherspoon (@ReeseW) April 30, 2019
— Larenz Tate (@LarenzTate) April 30, 2019
My heart is broken!!! I am at a loss for words. Can’t stop crying. I WILL MISS YOU MY DEAR FRIEND JOHN SINGLETON!!! You gave me my first big break in #BabyBoy and again in #HustleandFlow… https://t.co/6Fl8mJphKG
— Taraji P. Henson (@TherealTaraji) April 30, 2019