Life during wartime

Brightest talent among the post-Spike Lee new wave of African-American filmmakers is 23-year-old John Singleton, whose debut feature Boyz N The Hood is a searing look at everyday life under the siege conditions of the LA ghetto. Trevor Johnston meets a young man with a mission.

‘lt‘s not my life frame by frame. but I can say that my heart is in every scene ofthat film.‘ Coming from anyone else such sentiments would have the stomach-curdling ring of typical movie director PR, but when John Singleton tells you how much his first film means to him you feel you ought to believe him. A no-punches-pulled attempt on celluloid to come to terms with the suburban nightmare that is South Central Los Angeles. Boyz N The Hood stars former NWA mainman. Ice Cube as a would-be gangster who is already an ex-con by the tail-end of his teens. Not all of his friends are on the wrong side of the law. however. it is central character 'l‘re (Cuba (iooding. Jr) who. through the guidance ofactivist father Larry Fishburne and the sheer scale of the carnage around him. comes to realise that drive-by killing . after gang slaying after territorial feuding will never provide a solution to the problems of the neighbourhood (or Hood. for short). llarrowing and ultimately moving. it would be a major achievement coming from any American filmmaker. but as the work ofa 22-year-old it is little less than stunning.

Feted at this year‘s Cannes Film Festival and already loudly trumpeted in any number of round-up pieces on the so-called Black Pack. Boyz is powerful enough. angry enough. and technically accomplished enough to rank alongside the Spike


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Lee of Do The Right Thing vintage. Clearly. unless

he nosedives into a creative abyss of major dimensions. Mr Singleton is a young man with a quality future ahead of him.

Before all that however. it‘s London and time to meet and greet the UK press. Sporting the de rigeur baseball fatigues. Singleton. now having reached that milestone 23rd year. is every bit as self-confident as you‘d expect. but as a relative newcomer to the wide world of interview techniques he hasn‘t yet quite worked out when digression is the better part ofgood sense. namely when the hacks from the Emerald Isle invite you to discourse on the similarities between the problems ofL.A.‘s black community and the travails of their


own troubled land. A fairly tenuous grasp of the intricacies of Irish history aside. in person the youthful Californian impresses with both his street-cred knowledge of his own home turfand the intelligence to look at it within a wider context. He may shrug off the plaudits by describing himself as ‘just a regular brother who‘s got the chance to say what he wants to say‘ but his statement to the effect that ‘the problems ofany specific group in a society are the problems of that society as a whole‘ is undoubtedly telling.

While Mario Van Peebles (.VewJack City) has recently informed everyone who wanted to listen that the only way to get a movie made that would deal with the drug problem amongst young black males was to put together a zappy exploitation

’l’m a true filmmaker. I’m not making bullshit movies.’

flick with ideas above its station. Singleton managed to persuade Columbia Pictures that this USC film student should be given the modest funds to go off and make a tough. serious. intelligent movie about the sprawling city suburbs. Boyz N The Hood doesn't quite resort to sex or action highlights at five-minute intervals; instead. its sheer filmmaking guile and healthy respect for the sensitivity of the viewer draws the audience into its story of the futility ofongoing violence. By the time the final credits roll. Singleton has earned the right to flourish the slogan Increase The Peace. ‘I won‘t have a problem in keeping the momentum going.‘ claims Singleton. responding to another hint that he's merely part of this year‘s celluloid fad. ‘because I‘m a true filmmaker. I‘m not making bullshit movies. I‘m making movies for a population that‘ve never had films which speak to their heart and soul. I know there was violence

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the condition of America just now. I remain an optimist because this movie has brought together the people for whom it was orginally made. The Bloods and The Crisps. the gangs. got together to talk about what was in this movie. but ofcourse there was no press on that because the American media just doesn‘t want to deal with it. Basically they just don‘t give a fuck about black people in the first place.‘

Who knows what was said at that little pow-wow. but the strength of Boyz N The Hood is that it makes us all understand how the siege mentality begets an ever rising body count. As the police helicopters provide a subtly oppressive ever-present background drone. Singleton impressively sketches out a part of suburbia where the kids begin to handle fire-arms in their early teens and the appearance in your street ofa car you haven't seen before presents the palpable threat ofimminent machine-gun fire. Showing an incredibly sure feel offilmmaking dynamics. Singleton slowly. slowly winds up the intensity. For a long time you think you‘re watching a well-observed slice of life. until one of the characters has to go out to the shops to get some groceries and you know. you absolutely know before he takes one step out that door. that he‘s a dead man.

‘For my next movie. I‘d really like to do a black version of A Clockwork ()range where you get these black kids from Compton. take them out to the San Fernando Valley and watch them them go fucking crazy like they do in that movie. Man. that‘s like my favourite movie but somehow I don‘t think America‘s ready for that just yet.‘

Boyz N The Hood ([5) opens at Glasgow Cannon Par/(head and Odeon. Edinburgh ()deon and

The List 25 October— 7 November 1991 13