The Painful, Needed Lessons of 'Boyz N the Hood'


August 19, 1991|By TIM BAKER

Go see ''Boyz N the Hood.'' See it because it's a good movie.It deserves the rave reviews it received when it opened in theaters across the country last month. I liked it so much I went back and saw it again.

The story follows three black boys growing up in the violent world of a Los Angeles ghetto. Ricky is the star halfback on his high school team. He has a chance to go to college on a football scholarship if he scores above 700 on his college boards -- and if he survives.

Ricky's half-brother, ''Doughboy,'' doesn't have exceptional athletic ability. He knows he'll never escape from the neighborhood. Indeed, he's already made two fatal mistakes. He's dropped out of school and robbed a store. By the time he's 17, he's spent time in prison.

The two half-brothers live with their mother. They both suffer from a common crippling handicap. They never see their fathers.

Their friend, Tre Styles, might have followed them toward disaster. At first, he lives alone with his mother. But when he becomes a discipline problem in the fifth grade, she makes the move which eventually saves his life. She gives up her son and sends him to live with his father. In the movie's key line, she explains her decision to her former husband. ''I can't teach Tre how to be a man. That's your job.''

''Furious'' Styles is the kind of father I try hard to be. The man shows his son responsibility by living a life of purpose, self- discipline and self-respect. He teaches, coaches, warns, preaches and demands. He gives his son love and appreciation. ''You're the Prince,'' he tells the boy. But ''I'm the king,'' he quickly adds to remind the youngster that he must heed his father's rules and values.

Go see this movie because it ultimately transcends its specific setting of urban American horror to portray a universal theme -- it takes a man to grasp a boy by the hand and lead him into manhood.

''Boyz'' was written and directed by John Singleton, a 23-year-old black man who grew up in the ''hood'' -- the south central Los Angeles neighborhood in which we see his characters struggle against tragic forces. He is one of a new generation of promising, young, black movie-makers whose work shows us a savagely realistic picture of life for the black urban underclass -- drugs, unemployment, 40-ounce beer bottles, indiscriminate gunfire, senseless killings, dead bodies, police helicopters always hovering overhead.

The movie makes it clear that the path along which I must lead my son is nowhere near as dangerous as the one along which Tre Styles' father guides him.

It's hard for me to imagine. I'm a white suburbanite. I have never known anyone who was murdered -- ''smoked.'' I've never seen what little black children in this movie found walking home from school -- the dead body of a man who had been shot and left lying in an alley. I don't know what it feels like to grow up in the dangerous and hopeless world of the ''hood.'' But ''Boyz'' gave me some idea.

Go see ''Boyz N the Hood'' because it puts a human face on all the cold, cruel statistics you've seen about America's most endangered species -- young black males.

More of them go to prison than to college. They make up 7 percent of the country's population, 3.5 percent of all college students and 47 percent of all prison inmates. Indeed, one fourth of all young black men are behind bars, on parole or on probation.

They are seven times more likely to be murdered than my son. More likely to be killed than a soldier in the Vietnam War. In our inner cities, they have less chance to live past age 40 than do men in Bangladesh.

As Nicholas Lemann demonstrates in ''The Promised Land,'' large numbers of blacks migrated into the cities during the 1960s, just when America began to shut down urban manufacturing jobs and open suburban service businesses. Since then, blacks have remained trapped in the ghetto by discriminatory housing, widespread unemployment and poor education.

The combination of racism and inner-city economics bludgeons young black males. A large majority of them grow up in poverty. At least half are unemployed. In despair, many of them go on to lethal self-destructive conduct -- drugs and crime. In Baltimore, more than 50 percent of them drop out of school.

The vulnerability of young black males to these predations has defeated every attempt to deal with the trap of black urban poverty. Many of these boys simply don't know what it will take for them to break out. They don't have a father like Furious Styles to show them.

Go see this movie because it demonstrates how strong male modeling can make a difference for these boys, many of whom will otherwise grow up to become more of these numbing statistics.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.