25 Years Later, ‘Boyz N the Hood’ Isn’t the Hood
It’s astounding that I was a teenager when John Singleton’s classic — Boyz N the Hood was released back in the summer of 1991.
I recall how a movie about the atrocities of gang violence in the black community affected my perspective of what it means to be Black in America.
My parents had tried to instill the notion that Black Americans are largely unfortunate in their inability to function as effectively as White Americans.
Now that I’m older and through the depth of life experiences and deep connections that have been nurtured — I eventually concluded that their assumptions were woefully inaccurate.
They see it too. They saw the injustice rendered to Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown — among others.
They were disgusted and appalled as any human with feelings would be.
They were simply a product of an era that fostered the breakdown of relations between American-born Blacks and Africans.
But, now that people of color are immersed in a battle for our lives — it is clear that we are all in this. Because the America we once knew or believed in has died after a long and agonizing illness.
That brings me back to Boyz N the Hood — a coming-of-age tale about a young and impressionable African-American male, Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., who is sent away by his frustrated mother to live with his dad in South Central, L.A. as punishment for embodying the attributes of a typical out-of-control teen.
The goal is to get Tre educated on the facts of life which requires being removed from his comfort zone and transplanted in one of the most notoriously chaotic regions in the city.
My sheltered background never gave me any indication of what it means to exist amongst gang members who shoot to kill at a moments notice.
Although the frequent military coups in Nigeria did instigate my fair share of sleepless nights.
Tre was out of his comfort zone. But his father provided awesome guidance accompanied with the load of life advice that young people listen to with bored wonder.
Tre found a home in his new surroundings through the reconnection with his father and a timely reunion with his old buddies.
But life on the streets is never an easy feat. Shit happens. Over and over again.
The body count only counts towards more in an ever growing pile up. One man’s revenge becomes another’s sacrifice in a never ending cycle that breeds disaster and disillusionment.
The film made an impact not just at the box office but also in the landscape of cultural reference.
Back then, I was stunned at the level of violence and hatred stemming from a community that was sinking in the quick sand of lies — that left the youth disenchanted and the elderly dismally bitter.
But, there was always a level of silent privilege that prevailed as I instinctively believed that based on my pedigree — I had miraculously dodged a bullet.
I would never find myself living in a bad part of town where gun shots and life expectancy collide because — I’m special.
I’m educated, refined and not at all familiar with the ghetto lifestyle.
It was enlightening to behold Tre’s journey into a world he was unfamiliar with — a stewed temperament that his mother had tried to protect him from — but ironically ended up being his lifesaver.
He needed to see the ugliness instituted by a country that couldn’t survive without the decimation of his people.
He needed to writhe over the bullet-ridden body of his friend Ricky — a promising Black athlete with brains to boot who was felled by the greedy hands of the system who supplied his demise.
25 years later — watching Boyz N the Hood evokes a completely different vibe compared to when I first saw it.
I’m older. I have seen and heard things that have definitely altered the scope of how I view race and the institution that has worked very hard to feed the beast.
I am more empathetic to the cause of equality — and calling out the bastards that are determined to stifle the mission of leveling out the playing field in ways that ultimately benefit the oppressed.
But more than anything — I am struck with the realization that nobody in this country is above the law.
The law of guns and violence.
South Central Los Angeles, territorially withered parts of Chicago, New York and wherever else — are no longer isolated incidents that thankfully won’t rock your solidly armored world.
Nobody can escape the very strong possibility that walking down Hollywood Boulevard with your cousin — on a brilliantly superb sunny day could end with you in her arms — tearfully begging you to stay.
From an up and coming singer with the face of an angel and a voice that inspires to young children thriving in an environment that was supposed to groom them.
Not kill them.
There is a sense that “the hood” has graduated from specified pockets to a full-blown virus that has infected every facet of the nation.
You can’t meet up with your peeps without wondering if this will be the last supper. You can’t take a picturesque walk on the pier overlooking the Bay of San Francisco without hoping the odd man out walking towards you and your family — isn’t as crazy as he looks.
You can’t explore your surroundings with the air of authority that this land is your land.
That ship sailed when Tre decided he wouldn’t avenge the death of his friend and instead ran into the waiting arms of his patient father.
He chose to live.
He chose to go to college and become part of the working elite. That is the only way to escape the brutality of the streets and guarantee you won’t end up being swept in the current of nonchalance.
But he was so wrong.
If the thugs don’t get ya — the cops will. They don’t care where you went to college — in fact they’ll hate you for it.
A well-spoken and coherently adept negro is not going to save your life. Sandra Bland tried it and it didn’t work.
And being any other race with the same credentials or none at all won’t prevent the avalanche of bullets that you thought were part of the medley pummeling the ceiling of the night club — that was soaked with love and thunder until your blood joined up with the others.
There will be more blood.
It will flow into streets of cobblestones and into gutters of hopelessness.
We are walking targets waiting for Uber to pick us up when — Bang! The ride home ends up being the ride of your lifetime minus your consciousness.
Boyz N the Hood was a jarring illustration of life in the Hood. I got that concept and analyzed from afar.
Decades later — we’re all in it. The Wild, Wild West is conquering the species in more ways than one.
And now we know.
The hood was never the hood. It was always America.