The film Boyz n the Hood by John Singleton is a unique blend of humanism and the tough violence-ridden reality of South Central LA. With the help of a snapshot of the lives of three main characters, the author raises a number of uncomfortable questions about the reasons behind the cruelty and lawlessness of the streets, thereby prompting the viewers to transform their political sensibilities.
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The strongest tool the film possesses for transforming political sensibilities is its permeating theme of the origins of violence. The concept of the constant presence of the threat to every black man’s life is used as a leitmotif and is brought up in every major scene, starting from one of the young protagonist listening to his mother’s concerns. However, its strongest pitch is likely during Jason Styles Jr’s monologue, during which he bitterly acknowledges that the most probable reason for the high level of violence is the same as behind the omnipresence of the liquor stores – catering to the environment where black men are more likely to kill each other (Boyz n the Hood).
The effect of Furious’ assertion is even more powerful with regard to the ongoing debate on the true reason behind higher rates of violence among the black population. Voiced in 1991 in the picture, this controversial issue still stirs up many minds today, serving both a bitter excuse and a plea for help. In the film, the effect is further emphasized by the stoical acceptance of their fate by the characters. For them, a matter of life and death is not an elusive threat somewhere in the unseen future – it is a feasible, tangible possibility of everyday existence. It is their willingness to deal with it that persuades the viewers to reconsider their perception of political issues of the era.
The portrayal of the police as some kind of omnipresent malevolent force also increases the effect of associating with the characters. The constantly reoccurring sound of patrol car sirens illustrates the dangers of South Central Los Angeles, and the surge of police helicopter searchlights creates an atmosphere of a prison camp, constant pressing surveillance. The idea culminates in a scene where one of the friends is confronted by a cop who obviously abuses his power by threatening the protagonist with a gun (Boyz n the Hood). The fact that the cop constantly refers to him as “nigger” and expresses hatred while being black himself adds a sense of the surreal absurdity of the whole scene, ripping through the fabric of the comfortable acceptance.
At the same time, the film is surprisingly humane. The characters are neither violent, uncaring beings tainted by the environment, nor helpless victims of the cogs of the system. Amidst the shocking cynicism of their everyday life, they do their best to refrain from violence whenever possible. One of the scenes which showcase happens near the end of the movie, where Dough Boy approaches his friend and speaks to him solemnly despite not believing in the success of his escape (Boyz n the Hood). This manifestation of humanity, stripped of the usual Hollywood bravado, is what makes the political underpinnings even sharper.
However, the movie does not try to substitute reality with idealism – instead, it presents an organic blend of both by using superb camerawork, subtle yet moving score, and powerful monologs interwoven into a harsh reality of South Central Los Angeles. This unexpected contrast makes a final message to the viewer, a demand to challenge the existing political outlook and to reconsider sensible topics.
Singleton, John, director. Boyz n the Hood. Columbia Pictures, 1991.