Straight from the neighborhood Director of 'Boyz' makes strong debut

July 11, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

Add the name of John Singleton to the growing list of young black men who are distinguishing themselves as film directors.

The list includes Spike Lee (''Jungle Fever''), Mario Van Peebles (''New Jack City'') and Matty Rich (''Straight Out of Brooklyn'').

Singleton, all of 23, wrote and directed ''Boyz N the Hood,'' a gritty, unrelenting melodrama that focuses on a group of young black men who live in South Central Los Angeles, where Singleton was raised.

Singleton's mother and father never married, nor did they ever live together. Singleton would see his dad on weekends, then spend the rest of the week with his mother.

When he was 9 years old, in 1977, he saw ''Star Wars'' and decided he wanted to get into film. Told that the surest way to do this was to write a script, he began doing so a few years later.

In 1986, he enrolled in the University of Southern California's filmic writing program and, before graduating in 1990, won the 'Robert Riskin Writing Award.

At 23, had he heard of Riskin? Did he know that Riskin and director Frank Capra collaborated on a number of movie classics?

''Sure,'' Singleton said. ''I learned all about them in film school. They did 'It Happened One Night.' I saw it. I saw all their films. They were wonderful.''

Singleton got the money for "Boyz" after he wrote the script. While he was still in film school, he got an agent. ''I showed the script to the people at Columbia,'' he said. ''They liked it and gave me $6 million to do it.''

Just like that?

''Just like that,'' he said. ''It was really very easy. It was kind of cool. The studio saw mine as a different film, one that explores the sexual politics between black men and women. What I did was a common love story, but it was my way of saying what I have to get across.''

The film is a little more than just a common love story. ''Boyz'' looks at just about everything: love, marriage, drugs, fatherhood, missed opportunities, violence between blacks, and more precisely, the death rate among black men.

''Boyz'' also examines the effect all these killings are having on the women who endure all this. The film spares no one.

Singleton worked six weeks shooting the movie. He not only shot on location in South Central L.A., he also used a number of people who live in the area. ''I just held auditions,'' he said. ''There is an amazing amount of talent out there.''

He says all the characters in the film are real. ''All are based on people I knew or knew about,'' he said.

Two of the actors are established names. One is Larry Fishburne (''Class Action,'' ''King of New York,'' ''Cadence,'' ''Apocalypse Now,'' ''School Daze''); another is Tyra Ferrell who appears in Spike Lee's ''Jungle Fever.''

''Larry is a friend of mine,'' Singleton said. ''I already knew him. I wanted Tyra to do the role after I saw her in a few of her films.''

Does he have more projects? Is he worried about matching the success of his first film?

''Not really,'' he said. ''As long as I continue to make good films, they'll pay attention.''

''Boyz N the Hood'' opens at area theaters tomorrow. The film is winning very strong notices.

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