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Directed by John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood is unflinching debut about a side of Americana that was largely misunderstood and even more ignored in its time, putting a face to the storied violence and giving humanity to the people who are actually living it. Gun violence has been an issue for decades, especially in the inner-cities, and Singleton is one of the first to tackle it where it hurts the most: family. Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is young man living in a world torn to pieces. His mother (Angela Bassett), feeling unable to guide him away from the cruelty of the streets, sends him to live with his father, ‘Furious’ (Lawrence Fishburne), a tough-minded, feircely proud man who teaches his son about responsibility and respect, though Tre lives by a whole set of different rules on the street with his friends. The powerful cast, rounded out by a mesmerizing Ice-Cube as Doughboy and Morris Chestnut as Ricky deliver an emotionally driven story that feels authentic, as if Singleton is filming a documentary. The movie doesn’t preach about the morality of life in this part of the world, simply revealing how even good people can be in bad situations, and surviving with what you have while holding on to a dream is not always easy. For Tre, things cumulate, pressures build and he is faced with decisions on many fronts. How he deals with these moments and how it changes him are what matters and how strikingly well Singleton delivers it on screen. He doesn’t glorify the guns, never adds effects or over-produce a sequence to add drama. Everything feels genuine. This is a great film.
The Ricky is Shot Moment: Doughboy is a member of the Crips and has been recently released from jail. He is a good man but wallows in drugs and violence. His half-brother is Ricky, a star athlete, a clean cut boy with a girlfriend and big prospects for the future. He might actually make it out of the ‘hood. The Bloods are a rival gang, and one day, after a particularly tense standoff earlier, Ricky and Tre are walking home from a market and spot a car with Blood members, mostly notable a gang leader named Ferris (Raymond D. Turner), driving about the neighborhood. To avoid them, they take back alleys. Ricky suggests they split up, though Tre thinks it’s a bad idea even though he eventually agrees. Ricky heads one way, clutching a small shopping bag and a Lotto ticket, not seeing that the car is pulling up in front of him. Tre does though, and shouts back to Ricky, but it’s too late as one Blood member aims a shotgun out of the window and fires twice before driving away.
Why it Matters: Violence for the sake of it is difficult to understand, more so when it takes the life of an innocent caught in the middle. Ricky’s death hits hardest because it is he throughout that sees the greatest potential to be free of it all. We expect Doughboy to find himself at the wrong end of a gun (and we learn in epilogue that indeed he does), but Ricky, who was never a part of that life, is the harder victim to see fall. Like everyone around him, we held out hope for him. His death is what connects all people to the violence, a victim not enlisted in the warfare but still caught in the trenches. The more significant element of the moment is that Tre is witness to his friend’s murder, seeing the cost of the senseless rivalry up close, where pride misdirects ego. This is a crucial turning point and sets up the most important confrontation yet with his father, where he must make the biggest decision of his life. Ricky’s death has serious repercussions that ripple out in all directions, their effects different for those who see the consequences as lessons learned or ammunition for revenge.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice-Cube, Angela Bassett, Hudhail Al-Amir