By Jhantu Randall
John Daniel Singleton born January 6, ʻ68 in Los Angeles, CA was true to his hometown since it served as a backdrop for many of his films and endearingly was the same place where he was laid to rest on April 29 due to a coma as a result of a stroke he suffered from nearly two weeks earlier.
Singleton drew his last breath as he was pulled off life support. It is an odd thing to see those who we looked to for inspiration and as a hero suddenly start passing away right before our eyes. In a small way, their deaths become a reminder of life for the rest of us.
Son of Sheila Ward-Johnson, a pharmaceutical sales executive and Danny Singleton, a real estate agent, he grew up to attend Blair High School where he graduated and went to Pasadena City College. From there he went to the School of Cinematic Arts (U.S.C.) where he graduated Kappa Alpha Psi in ʻ90. Initially enrolling to pursue Computer Sciences he was persuaded to try U.S.C.’s Film Writing program which is designed to take students directly into the Hollywood game.
He had always sited Steven Spielberg has a source of inspiration so following that playbook he began to work on his own film. His debut, “Boyz n the Hood” was released in ʻ91. The film starred; at the time, budding African-American actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, Ice Cube and Laurence Fishburne. The film is a tale of growing up in Compton, which was a daring narrative for mainstream America at that time. The film was met with both critical and commercial success netting Singleton an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. At only 24-years-old, he was the first African-American and youngest person ever to be nominated. As of ʻ02, “Boyz n the Hood” was deemed a classic that is “culturally significant,” according to the Library of Congress. From that film, John Singleton went on to direct the Michael Jackson special FX driven video “Remember the Time” which featured Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson. His next two films, “Poetic Justice,” starring musican and actor Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur and “Higher Learning” Starring Omar Epps, Tyra Banks, Ice Cube and Michael Rapaport were met with mixed reviews and still are infamous in the film and black culture communities. Both held true to Singleton’s style of being unapologetically, socially conscious and seemingly led to “Higher Learning” becoming much more relevant in today’s current climate.
Film Cover Images Provided by the following sources: Snowfall (IMDb), Rosewood Film Cover (MichaelDVD), Remember The Time (Pinterest), Hustle & Flow ( Amazon), Poetic Justice (Wikipedia Library), Baby Boy (Film Discogs.com), Higher Learning (Wikipedia Library) & Boyz N The Hood (Wikipedia Library)
His film “Rosewood;” a historical drama about racial violence that actually occurred in Rosewood, Florida and the movie “Baby Boy,” starring Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg and Taraji P. Henson were both met with critical success however didn’t quite meet the commercial appeal they deserved. Moving towards the independent route, Singleton was involved in “2 Fast 2 Furious” in ʻ03 which was the second installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise bringing Tyrese Gibson in and introducing Chris Ludacris Bridges to the cast. In ʻ05, he directed “Hustle and Flow” starring a younger version of the future “Empire” stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. This film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song with 3-Six Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” Singleton was involved in directing a few episodes of “Empire” as well as “American Crime Story” and “Billions” however he was garnered critical acclaim with “SnowFall,” a show in which he was a co-creator.
In ʻ03 John Singleton received a ʻStarʻ on the Hollywood ʻWalk of Fame,ʻ solidifying his legacy in many fansʻ minds. Not only was John Singleton a man who created stories in a way that young African American individuals can relate but American culture as a whole can relate to.
For myself, as a writer and fan of specially crafted film, it is his harsh tones that resonate with me and tell me to pay closer attention to what he is putting on screen. Not only did he garner success on his own terms but he passed on the blueprint to so many that came after him and for that he will be remembered as one of the greats of the silver screen.