Blair/PCC Graduate John Singleton sets standard in Urban Filmmaking

Article by Mistah Wilson

Born during the peak of the civil rights era, Film Director John Singleton has served as a prime
example for making it out the hood, while not forgetting about the hood. Singleton had a vision for cinematography and pursued it. Having attended Blair High School (Class of 86') in Pasadena as well as taking classes as Pasadena City College, the Boyz N the Hood director was on a path to greatness. He got his start interning on the Arsenio Hall show in 1991. Meanwhile, he was writing the script for Boyz n the Hood, a movie that went on to be recognized in the National Film Registry as being "culturally significant".

We took a look back at John Singleton's career and from a millennial's perspective, he's directed some of our favorite movies over the past 20+ years. Being an alumni of two Pasadena-based institutions, we are inspired by the life and career of Film Director John Singleton. Below are a few points and movies directed by John Singleton that we believe helped set the standard in urban filmmaking.
  1. John Singleton's vision had a lot to do with empowering others. With movies like Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Hustle & Flow, motivation for much of Singleton's work came from wanting to help his fellow colleagues advance in their careers. He wanted to help his peers tell their story. And although he credits his parents for keeping him away from the streets, he was a living testament to the rough lifestyle his peers lived growing up in South Central.
  2. Hip Hop is arguably among the most influential genre of music in the world. And Singleton is known for featuring Hip Hop artists in his movies. John gave Hip Hop Legend Ice Cube his debut leading actor role in Boyz N the Hood and has went on to cast artists like Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and has even worked with the late great Tupac Shakur. In short, Singleton is responsible for many movies that we actually wanted to see in our life like Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious, & Four Brothers.
  3. John Singleton has a clear love and passion for filmmaking. Judging by his work, you can tell
    he's applied what he's learned to bring his vision to life. Singleton is proud to have attended Pasadena City College and credits them for helping him realize his dream citing,"PCC is very important to me because without PCC I never would have gone onto film school and eventually become a filmmaker and realize my dream,” Singleton said. “The arts are the savior of any society and to have a great new facility where resource access is available for students would just be a phenomenal for the community."

A few movies directed by John Singleton that set the standard in urban film...

Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Boyz n the Hood was a movie directed by John Singleton that went on to be very successful. It was essentially the most accurate narrative on gang life in South Central Los Angeles that Hollywood put out. It showed both sides of the fence, and how even those who didn't belong to any gang were still targets. Guilty by affiliation. For a young black man, it was hard living in South Central LA. Everyone is your enemy...including the cops. Singleton, who wrote the script for this movie, was already familiar with gang life having grew up in South LA. He had great insight into real-life gang scenarios, activity, and behaviors. Singleton was able to convey the Crips and Bloods with a transparent approach, allowing the viewer to tell who was who by the colors they wore, not by the title of their gang. As far as commercial movies detailing the lifestyle of street gangs in Los Angeles, Boyz n the Hood is definitely in the conversation. Singleton worked with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, and Angela Basset on this film. The movie also birthed new film careers for Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut. For Boyz n the Hood to be congressionally recognized and listed in the National Film Registry, it sends a clear message to aspiring directors of the millennial generation that their vision can come to life. Singleton was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African-American to be nominated for the award.

 Poetic Justice (1993)
In an exclusive interview with Essence Magazine, Singleton wanted to help give a voice to young African American women by giving them a lead role. Ice Cube reportedly turned down the role because he claimed he wasn't at a point in his career to do romance movies. So, the role was given to Hip Hop Legend Tupac Shakur, who's memorable appearance remains among his fan's most treasured projects of him. John Singleton having worked with Tupac means everything today. In this movie, Singleton worked with many great African American talents. What really caught young viewer's attention was the Hip Hop element of the film. And if you know any better, Hip Hop is among the world's most influential genres of music. Singleton was soon becoming a resource for Afro-American talents in Hollywood. And rightfully so, because it was a prime example of being the change he wanted to see by empowering others. This movie was an impactful romance for young audiences everywhere.

 Higher Learning (1995)
In this 1995 crime drama, Singleton sought the likes of Omar Epps, Ice Cube, Michael Rapaport, Tyra Banks, Busta Rhymes, Laurence Fishburne, & Regina King to highlight issues surrounding racism on a university campus. A key message from this film suggests educating ourselves for the sole purpose of self-empowerment as oppose to simply trying to pass a class or course. Meanwhile, when the different cultures clash, they realize that education comes at a much bigger cost. Higher Learning definitely goes down as a movie that common people can relate to. Especially those who've actually experienced such things while attending college. It shows different cultures and the pressures that they face while trying to create a better life for themselves. High profile critics had a lot of 'not so good' things to say about this legendary film, however, as a user mentioned on IMDB, "Maybe I'm crazy, but the exact things that everyone seems to find wrong with the movie are the things that I think makes it good."

Baby Boy (2001)
Everyone and they mama wanted to see this film! At the time of it's release, I was just an 11 year-old foster kid who went to Magic Johnson Theaters to see something a little more appropriate. This movie reminds me of Waiting to Exhale in the sense that it was a movie that kids wanted to see...because of the explicitness. Singleton starred Watts native Tyrese Gibson in Baby Boy as Jody, a role we felt he played great! The movie reflects the life of an irresponsible young man who's reached an adult age but still lives at home with his mom. This movie brought a lot of what audiences wanted to see from gang violence and hip hop stars to baby mama drama and fights. John was a genius for casting talents like Tyrese, Taraji P., Omar Gooding, Ving Rhames, Snoop Dogg, Tray Dee, Goldie Loc, & Mo'nique. Baby Boy definitely goes down as one of the most influential films of the 2000's. Again, that is as far as Generation Y is concerned.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Long before I had any idea that John Singleton directed this movie, it stood as my favorite installment in the Fast & Furious series. I mean, it was action packed. Urban. Rich. When they showed the scene from the helicopter view of all those cars coming out of the garage making it difficult for the cops to pinpoint their suspects, I jumped out of my seat! If you ask me, Singleton single-handedly directed the best movie in the Fast and Furious franchise. Again, it contained everything we wanted to see as a young audience. Not to mention the memorable soundtrack with Ludacris's "Act  Fool". The music video was a great spinoff of the movie. I can't say other F&F movies weren't good, but 2 Fast 2 Furious was the last great original before taking it to Tokyo. I liked how Singleton showed a ton of action but kept it revolving around cars and racing. Once it turned into cops & robbers with the later versions, I began to lose interest.

Four Bothers (2005)
An exceptional movie. Singleton knows how to keep audiences on their feet with urban action crime dramas like Four Brothers. Again, Singleton looked to Hip Hop for a high caliber performance with Andre 3000 and Tyrese Gibson. Mark Whalberg was the quintessential talent for the role of Bobby Mercer, the brother who lead the pack and kept it together all those years. Terrance Howard also played a great cop. Four Brothers gave us an idea of what we would do if our mother was wrongfully murdered. The scenarios in this movie are great. Whalberg's character is everything we expect from him. Rough, rugged, and ready to brawl. I remember wanting to see Four Brothers simply based off the commercials I've seen. And I was not disappointed. 

Being the first African American Film Director to win an Academy Award, Singleton has pioneered a vision in film that inspired a generation of artists and potential film directors. We took a look at his box office numbers to the aforementioned movies and they all did very well...making nearly double the money back from their respective budgets. The Pasadena, California community simmers with developmental talent waiting for the right time to be purposeful. And African American Film Director John Singleton set it off.

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