Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boyz n the Hood

How often does a film truly change one's life, or at least one's perception of it? I cannot recall a movie that had a greater impact on my view of society and culture than tonight's entry, Boyz n the Hood.

I know what you're thinking. This white kid from the suburbs of Lafayette didn't know any black people, so this was a whole new world for me.

Nope. I knew several black people. I didn't know any poor people.

My entire experience with the environment where Boyz n the Hood takes place was riding in the car to and from the Oakland Coliseum for A's games. I saw the windows with bars on them and figured those people just didn't want anyone breaking in their house at night. Sure, I knew these urban areas were more violent and drug-ridden than where I came from, but I couldn't imagine the struggle that Boyz n the Hood so unflinchingly portrays.

The thing that struck me about the film was how the childhood experiences of the characters were very much like mine, yet they were also totally alien. I moved between two houses/environments due to divorced parents. I wanted to be like Ronnie Lott. I liked bbq's. I liked goin' to the store, even if I had no money. I would go anyway (Note: My sister and I recreated that particular exchange roughly 850 times after we saw this film on vhs).

Then again, I never saw a dead body on my way to school. My dad never had to shoot at anyone who broke into our house. There were never toddlers belonging to crack moms wandering in the streets. Perhaps most significantly, no one ever pointed a gun at me. I never had any of my friends get shot (or fire on others). My dad lived in Martinez, then Pittsburg. That was as close to "hood" as I got.

It's an amazing film with outstanding performances from Laurence Fishburne as an intellectual if somewhat distant father determined not to let his son fall victim to the culture of violence that has claimed so many young men. Cuba Gooding Jr. overcomes a truly ludicrous shirt in his breakout role.

Speaking of breakouts, Ice Cube delivers the film's signature line with understated grace, lamenting the lack of attention paid to the tragic death of his brother Ricky, an aspiring football star: "Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood. They had all this foreign shit. They didn't have shit on my brother, man."

It's the father of all "hood" movies, and still the best one. I'm betting it taught a lot of sheltered suburbanites like me "what was going on in the hood," without glorifying the violent or illegal aspects of that life. That's quite a feat.

Director John Singleton was rewarded by becoming the youngest-ever Best Director nominee at 24 (besting Orson Welles, who, as I understand it, is hella old now). However, Boyz n the Hood wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I have no problem with the inclusion of winner Silence of the Lambs or JFK, which are both iconic. I haven't seen Prince of Tides, although I understand it's a chick flick. I have seen Bugsy, and it's about 1/16 the movie Boyz n the Hood is, and about 1/100 as memorable. Then there's Beauty and the Beast. A cute little Disney cartoon is a more important contribution to the film canon than a landmark movie that essentially created an entirely new genre?

You know, if I were some sort of wacky conspiracy theorist, I'd say that the Academy has a habit of throwing films largely starring/produced by people of color a few bones with lesser nominations, but very rarely acknowledging those films as being among the best. But that's just crazy talk, I'm sure. No evidence for that at all, despite these past two blog entries.

Oh, and Terminator 2 got robbed this year as well. Prince of Tides? Please.

Nolanometer Final Grade: A

1 comment:

Ryan Stokes said...

You've just inspired me to put Dr. Dre's Chronic (the original) back in my truck.

Good review sir! (how about the infamous 1994 best picture controversy? Some say that Pulp Fiction should've won, but it had to face "Forrest Gump" a less-edgy,family friendly, nonetheless, a great movie.)