Remembering John Singleton

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By Farayi Mungoshi

EVERY week I review movies and recommend those I feel help build a mind-set of positivity for the blackman. 

 John Daniel Singleton is the director of the famous movies Boyz n the Hood and Baby Boy.

From films shot by amateurs in film-making to those produced by professionals; from films produced by Zimbabweans and South Africans, to those shot by Americans, we discuss films that mould us as black people. 

We have taken time to promote the colour of our skin in a world where most of our kith and kin have been taught to look outwards (especially to the West) for help, instead of inwards and towards self for the betterment of our race. 

Through film, we have reminded each other that we (blacks) matter; that we will make it if we keep fighting; that we should not feel sorry for ourselves but rather get up and dust ourselves from colonial oppression and slavery and move on. 

Thus, it is befitting to bid farewell to one of the directors of such movies; empowering films that have tackled subjects that have brought black people to the fore.

Even though it’s two or so weeks after the passing on of John Daniel Singleton, his life and contribution to the film industry is a story that lives on and shall continue to be told.

In an article on the Spike Lee movie BlackkKlansman some three weeks ago, I said I was more of a Singleton fan than a Spike Lee one; I didn’t even know then he was on his deathbed after suffering a stroke.

My father introduced me to Singleton through his movie Boyz n the Hood. 

Boyz n the Hood is among some of the early films produced by black directors that revealed the horrendous life of African-Americans in the so-called ‘land of the free’.

It depicts a true picture and insight into the lifestyle of black people living in America; the whole gory truth about how they face persecution from police everyday simply because of their skin colour. 

The movie details how the majority are subjected to live in the projects where drugs, prostitution and violent crime are rampant and the police is doing nothing to protect citizens from the gangs there. 

Music had already started exposing this rot through rap groups such as Niggas with Attitude (NWA) which caused social havoc across America in the late 1980s and early 1990s through their unapologetic music to such an extent they were placed under the FBI radar. 

The group produced songs such as ‘F**k tha police’, a protest song against police brutality and racial profiling. 

NWA’s music and Singleton’s film Boyz n the Hood were sending a similar message. 

They were the forerunners in exposing police brutality in America and the hypocrisy of the country’s presidents who tout themselves champions of democracy and human rights.

Very few film-makers can boast an Oscar nomination on a debut film because of the fierce competition the Oscars command but such was Singleton’s brilliance that, at only the age of 24, he became the youngest and first African-American to be nominated for Best Director Award. 

He had a dream start to his career; something most of us can only dream about. 

He went on to direct more films during his career, among them Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Baby Boy (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) as well as Hustle and Flow (2005).       

In order to market their films and command a large viewership, most film directors and producers from Hollywood pour millions in employing the most influential protagonists or main actors — call it a marketing gimmick but it works. Most people would prefer to go watch a movie featuring Brad Pitt than go watch one featuring Farayi Mungoshi; after all, who is Farayi Mungoshi! 

Singleton knew this and, as a black person, he turned towards the group of people he knew commanded the attention of a huge audience — musicians.   

Music is the most common podium used by black folk to express themselves and, throughout generations, they have influenced the world through music. We talk about Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Tupac and Oliver Mutukudzi, among many others, who were loved dearly because they did renditions that moved our spirits, uplifting us when depressed as well as questioning us whenever we were weary and about to give up the fight. 

We love musicians and they are most probably the most influential people on this planet. And so it was that Singleton turned to Ice Cube as one of the stars of his debut movie, Boyz n tha Hood. 

Ice Cube would go on to make a bigger career as an actor than a rap artiste and Singleton would get world recognition as a film-maker. 

In 1993, Singleton turned to Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. During that period, Tupac was hot and on everyone’s lips, no need to mention about Janet Jackson. Poetic Justice was Tupac’s second movie. 

Singleton did not stop there; he brought us Snoop Dogg and Tyresse Gibson in Baby Boy. It was Gibson’s first film followed by 2 Fast 2 Furious, again by Singleton, and we can all agree that Gibson has gone on to be more successful as an actor than a musician. 

At 51, he hung his gloves and headed on to the next life, having made his mark. 

He died an empty husk, having fully utilised his God-given talent.

Rest easy John Daniel Singleton! 

You paved the way for the next generation of film-makers and made it clear that we should not allow others to define our space as black people.

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