Taking a deep dive in all of the movies John Singleton directed in his career
In remembrance of his illustrious career and his influence on helping bridge the gap between Hollywood and hip hop, REVOLT looks back at Singleton’s legendary body of work.
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On April 29, 2019, Hollywood lost one of its greatest minds with the passing of film director, screenwriter and producer John Singleton; who was removed from life support after suffering a stroke earlier this month. Born in Los Angeles, California, Singleton attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts and graduated just one year prior to the release of his first film, Boyz n the Hood. The overwhelming success of Boyz n the Hood put him on the radar as one of the most promising black directors in Hollywood and jumpstarted one of the more legendary directorial runs of the past few decades.
Helping define one of the most fruitful periods for black creatives in the history of cinema, Singleton’s films enabled a generation of black people to see themselves on the big screen and to have their stories told from various vantage points. In addition to his sheer talent as a filmmaker, Singleton’s willingness to work with stars from the hip hop and R&B communities helped spark the acting careers of names like Ice Cube, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Tyrese. This earned him a special place in the hearts of rap artists and fans alike, as his actions showed that he was truly for the culture.
In remembrance of his illustrious career and his influence on helping bridge the gap between Hollywood and hip hop, REVOLT looks back at the nine classic movies that Singleton directed.
1. Boyz n the Hood
In 1991, Singleton took viewers’ breath away with his directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood, a coming-of-age flick set in South Central Los Angeles that put the harsh realities of gang violence on the big screen. Featuring a cast that included a mix of veterans (Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett) and future A-List talent (Cuba Gooding Jr., Nia Long, Regina King, Morris Chestnut), Boyz n the Hood was a runaway success, grossing upwards of 57.5 million at the box office. The film also broke racial barriers, as Singleton’s nomination for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 64th Academy Awards made him the youngest filmmaker and the first African-American to receive that honor. And when you add the fact that Singleton had the foresight to cast rap star Ice Cube in a leading role as Darrin “Doughboy” Baker — jumpstarting his career in Hollywood that has spanned over a quarter-century — Boyz n the Hood was an undeniable game-changer that spoke to black America like few films have in the history of cinema.
2. Poetic Justice
For his second film Poetic Justice, Singleton proved he was no one-trick pony by delivering a storyline revolving around love in the black community, and the trials and tribulations that may come with it. Doubling down on the formula that helped make Boyz n the Hood a massive success, Singleton drew on the star power of Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, who costarred in the film. In addition to Singleton’s versatility as a screenwriter and director, Poetic Justice also showcased Shakur’s own range as an actor. Following up his volatile performance as Bishop in the 1991 film Juice with his role as Lucky — a charming mail courier who finds a love interest in Jackson’s titular character, Justice — the controversial rap star puts forth a vulnerable, yet riveting performance. Nabbing the No. 1 spot at the box office during its opening weekend, Poetic Justice earned Jackson Academy award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song for “Again.” Rounded out by a cast including Regina King, Joe Torry, Tyra Ferrell and Maya Angelou, Poetic Justice continued Singleton’s streak of classic films that are hailed as masterpieces in the realms of hip hop and urban culture.
3. Higher Learning
By the time 1995 rolled around, black cinema was in the midst of a renaissance period, which Singleton’s first two films played a large part in helping create. However, the hotshot director delivered a change of pace with his third theatrical release Higher Learning, a film tackling the combustible atmosphere that racial tension, bigotry, and homophobia can create in the face of intolerance. Starring acting vets Omar Epps, Micheal Rappaport and Kristy Swanson, Higher Learning also included appearances from various soon-to-be thespians like rappers Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. Despite grossing over $38,000,000 at the box office, Higher Learning received mixed reviews upon its release, but has gone on to attain cult classic status with a storyline that borders on prophetic given the current strain on race relations throughout the country today.
Singleton took a backseat during the screenwriting process for the 1997 film Rosewood. However, the acclaimed director further bolstered his reputation as one of the premier black filmmakers in Hollywood with what many critics deemed his best work since Boyz n the Hood. Based on the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida; the film was led by a cast including Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Bruce McGill and Esther Rolle. While Rosewood‘s glowing reviews failed to translate into success at the box office, the film was additional evidence of Singleton’s awareness of historical race relations throughout American history.
In 2000, Singleton earned his second No. 1 opening weekend at the box office after taking the reigns of the iconic Shaft movie franchise. Casting Samuel L. Jackson as the crime-fighting nephew of the original John Shaft, Singleton turned the film into a high-powered affair with appearances from Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Busta Rhymes and Richard Roundtree. Grossing $107.2 million worldwide, Shaft ranks amongst Singleton’s most successful theatrical releases to date and helped reprise one of the most pivotal black movie characters of the blaxpolitation era.
6. Baby Boy
As a result of the passing of Tupac Shakur, who was set to star in the lead role of Baby Boy, the film was pushed back until Singleton found an appropriate replacement for him: Model and R&B star Tyrese Gibson. He was cast opposite Taraji P. Henson in the pair’s feature film debut in 2001. Set in Los Angeles, Baby Boy centers around the life of man-child Joseph “Jody” Summers, who is struggling to come to terms with his parental responsibilities and the challenges of adulthood. Jody’s girlfriend and mother of his son, Yvette, is faithful and dutiful to Jody. But, she urges him to step up and become a man for the sake of their child. The film, which helped Henson become one of the most popular young black actresses in Hollywood, struck a chord in the urban community, and presented a raw and unfiltered look into various relationship dynamics in the urban community.
7. 2 Fast 2 Furious
Singleton’s career reached its apex when he stepped on as director for 2 Fast 2 Furious, the second installment in the wildly successful Fast and the Furious franchise. Tasked with surpassing the box office returns of its predecessor without the reprisal of Vin Diesel’s role as Dominic Toretto, Singleton put together a cast of A-List talent including Paul Walker, Eva Mendes, Tyrese, Cole Hauser and Devon Aoki. The director also infused the sequel with an ample amount of hip hop flavor thanks to appearances from rappers Ludacris and Jin, who carried on Singleton’s tradition of putting musical artists in favorable positions in Hollywood. Upon its release in 2003, 2 Fast 2 Furious quickly became the most successful film in the franchise, grossing $236.3 million worldwide. Along with its status as one of the blockbuster releases of its time, the film marked the biggest directorial performance of Singleton’s career.
8. 4 Brothers
In 2005, Singleton stepped back into the director’s chair for 4 Brothers, a crime thriller with enough twists and turns to make it one of the more riveting bodies of work from the Los Angeles native. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese, rapper Andre 3000, and Garrett Hedlund, 4 Brothers finds four adopted siblings returning to their hometown of Detroit, Michigan to track down the person behind the death of their foster mother. With supporting performances from Terrance Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Sofia Vergara and Josh Charles, the film earned rave reviews and grossed $92.5 million worldwide. In addition to earning praise from the mainstream, 4 Brothers was a hit amongst film buffs in the hip hop community, who keyed in on Andre 3000’s standout performance. Singleton’s casting of the Outkast member would earn him additional cred as hip hop’s most beloved director.
For the last directorial effort of his career, Singleton was handpicked by Lionsgate Films to bring the 2011 action thriller Abduction to life. Starring Taylor Lautner Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver, the film performed exceptionally at the box office, grossing $82 million worldwide. However, Abduction failed to receive the critical acclaim or cult status of his previous offerings. But, it was yet another reminder of Singleton’s standing as one of the most bankable black directors of his generation.
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