'Boyz N the Hood' has moviegoers rapt, not rioting

July 15, 1991|By New York Times News Service Keith Paul of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

The homeboys came, but they mostly left their colors at home and "dressed down," as they say in the 'hood, to see "Boyz N the Hood."

While sporadic violence Friday night caused eight movie theaters elsewhere in Southern California and the nation to cancel showings of the film, there was no trouble where many had expected it to be the worst -- at the Baldwin Hills Theater, which lies at the edge of the gang-torn Los Angeles neighborhood where John Singleton's drama of growing up in the ghetto was set.

All weekend, long, orderly lines of young blacks waited to get into the theater, then quietly absorbed its message of the values of family, school and hope.

In Baltimore, moviegoers said they did not think "Boyz N the Hood" caused the violence that plagued the movie's openings across the country.

"It's just like a regular movie," said William Alston 17, of the 1000 block of McDonogh Street after a showing at United Artists Harbor Park theater yesterday. "It was just like any other violent movie."

At Baldwin Hills, as at many theaters across the country, extra security guards were hired to prevent misbehavior. Before the Saturday night showing, Lance E. Drummond, a 60-year-old Harlem-born businessman who is chairman of the company that owns the theater, mounted the stage of the 420-seat house, apologized for the tight security and told the audience:

"Many people thought we should not show this movie. But I saw it, and I felt the community needs to see it. It shows the good and bad. It also shows what is necessary. Look at this movie. I think you'll get something out of it."

The audience watched the film in rapt silence. Afterward, many pronounced it the most realistic and positive portrait they had ever seen of South Central Los Angeles, which has been battling the ravages of gang terrorism, crack cocaine addiction, alcoholism and broken families.

"It's a very positive movie," said Mashia McGraw, a receptionist. "It sends a message out to all black people. Everybody should come and watch it."

One Baltimore viewer was perplexed by the violence at some theaters.

"I don't understand why it happened," said Gary McFadden, 29, of the 1000 block of Clover Dale Road, after seeing the movie yesterday. "Ignorance, I guess."

He added that every youth should see the movie because there is a positive message about staying out of gangs.

"The movie told people to keep their children out of gangs and out of violence," said Linda Clark, 37, of the 1000 block of Clover Dale Road.

Eric Jones, 28, said the movie doesn't portray anything of city life that people can't see just sitting on their front porch.

"You see it every day," said Mr. Jones, adding that the theater shouldn't pull the movie because there is nothing in it to instill a riot.

The film, written and directed by the 23-year-old Mr. Singleton, tells the story of a young man's passage to manhood in this tough setting.

It preaches against gang violence, cocaine use and teen-age pregnancy, and stresses the importance of having a strong father and getting an education.

Though it has bloody scenes of gang shootings, it is not a film about gangs.

Clashes among gang members left at least 33 people wounded and one dead when the film opened Friday at 829 screens nationwide.

The film was expected to gross about $9.2 million for the weekend,said Columbia Pictures, its distributor.

Mr. Singleton said Saturday in an interview with Cable News Network that the news media were "lying in wait" for violence.

If they were lying in wait at Baldwin Hills, they were disappointed.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of tension surrounded Saturday' screening. Security men scrutinized the line to keep apart members of Crips and Bloods gangs.

Few flaunted the blue of the Crips or the red of the Bloods, but they were there.

The reason that violence occurred at white-run theaters and not at Baldwin Hills, said its general manager, Nelson Bennett, was that the theater knew and respected the community while other theaters tended to treat young blacks with fear and contempt.

"We are not going to allow what happens in other parts of the city," Mr. Drummond said. "We are not turning this theater over to anyone. We live in this community. We hire the local kids. Maybe the gangs respect this. They walk in here and take off their hats. This is neutral territory."

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