Interview : John Singleton – Boyz N the Hood DVD

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since a then 21-year old filmmaker broke many rules with his groundbreaking take on urban Black America. The film was a low-budget drama called Boyz N the Hood. Over a decade later, much has changed in Hollywood, and Black cinema continues to be challenging, confronting and all-encompassing.

At the time that Singleton challenged our perceptions with his searing and powerful film, Spike Lee was establishing himself with his own take on African American culture, crossing the boundaries with the likes of Jungle Fever which was released the same year as the young Singleton came out with his Boyz. Now, as the DVD revolution has redefined the filmmaker as artist, presenting the director with an invaluable opportunity to reflect on his or her work, Singleton has been able to do just that, with a special edition of Boys N the Hood that hits stores in North America on September 2. Singleton had hoped that the DVD would be released for the film’s 10th anniversary, but it didn’t quite work out that way. “I delayed it because the materials weren’t available”, explains the director in a Los Angeles hotel room. “ It took longer than expected to find the deleted scenes necessary for such a DVD, not to mention a special documentary put together specifically for the DVD. The film was supposed to be released on DVD to coincide with the release of Singleton’s Baby Boy, but audiences’ indifference to that personal of films may have hindered the director’s desire to bring back Boyz. Now, however, the director’s 2 Fast 2 Furious and its success has given him more leverage to bring back on DVD , the film that spearheaded his career, and he says that looking back on the film over 10 years on “was pretty good. The film holds up, man, and still has power and impact.” Singleton adds that he changed considerably since making the film. “I think I’ve become more of a mature filmmaker”, he says, and going back to where it all began, following 2 Fast, reminds him of why he became a director to begin with. “Doing Boyz is basically about getting a film made and making a powerful impact as a filmmaker, while doing a movie like Fast and the Furious is just fun, you know?”

Son of mortgage broker Danny Singleton and pharmaceutical company sales executive Sheila Ward and raised in separate households by his unmarried parents, John Singleton attended the Filmic Writing Program at the University of Southern California after graduating from high school in 1986. While studying there, he won three writing awards from the university, which lead to a contract with Creative Artists Agency during his sophomore year. Columbia Pictures bought Singleton’s semi-autobiographical script for Boyz N the Hood and budgeted it at $7 million. The film was a hit, and gave the young director enormous creative freedom, but not all its successors would be as well received. Poetic Justice and Higher Learning had mixed results, while his powerful Rosewood went virtually unreleased outside of the US. Shaft was far more successful despite on-set disagreements between Singleton and star Samuel L. Jackson, followed by his personal and sexual Baby Boy. 2 Fast 2 Furious enabled Singleton to prove that he can be a commercial director if put to the test. The director admits that doing films like 2 Fast, enables him to make the personal films that he loves, films as brave and raw as Boyz N the Hood. “I think I’ll always do a big, Hollywood movie and then something smaller,” though he also admits that getting these personal films made now is far more of a challenge than it was a decade ago. “It’s much tougher to get a film made which has a personal vision in it, than to make something which basically has no point of view.” The director says that his secret for success as a personal filmmaker is simple: “I just write the script and put my passions behind it.”

Somewhere along the way, Hollywood has taken notice of this passionate director, and even bestowed on him the coveted star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, and he couldn’t be more pleased. “I’m happy, because I’ve been wanting to be a filmmaker since I was nine years old and that’s what I’ve been really happy about.” He calls himself the little black kid from the ghetto. The kid has grown up and he has taken his experiences to the forefront with a classic film that has stood the test of time.

THE TWO DISK SPECIAL EDITION OF BOYZ N THE HOOD WILL BE RELEASED ON SEPTEMBER 2.

- PAUL FISCHER