On July 12, 1991, Boyz n the Hood hit theaters nationwide after early screenings in Los Angeles and New York City. As a 12-year-old living in Germany at the time who saw it while visiting relatives in Five Points, Ala., that summer, the movie changed a lot for me. Apparently, I wasn’t alone.
1. I didn’t realize I could care so much about somebody I didn’t know or who didn’t even exist in real life. Every. Damn. Time. (spoiler alert) When Ricky gets hit with that first shot, my heart skips a beat and my eyes start to well up. I’m not even sure it’s healthy or not, but I still pour out some brown liquor for Ricky. The movie basically set me up for Mufasa’s death in The Lion King.
2. I saw Colors but that was about cops and gangs. BNTH featured both as a looming presence but centered the everyday lives of regular folks from South Central. Until then, my relationship with Los Angeles was entirely crafted by the music of N.W.A. and Ice Cube, in particular. BNTH showed me the heart of Los Angeles and that folks deal with the same shit in different ways all over the country.
3. On a more comedic note, I think too much at times, which means that I’ve never been able to let go of the entire lack of disregard for reality when it comes to Ricky and Trey taking their SATs, going to Crenshaw and getting into a fight with Ferris that night and Ricky getting his scores back the next day.
And let’s be real, it wasn’t summer time; they were still in school, so they clearly took the test on a Saturday like everybody else. Which means that they took the test on Saturday morning. Which means THE TEST WAS SCORED ON SATURDAY NIGHT IN 1991, and the results were DELIVERED BY THE USPS on Sunday afternoon. For the record, Sunday delivery by USPS isn’t a thing and hasn’t been since the early 1900s.
4. BNTH is often compared to Menace II Society, usually referred to as more “real” than BNTH, because they’re both depictions of early ’90s Los Angeles. Full disclosure, I have always liked Menace II Society more, but I think that’s because I’ve also always viewed it as more “real.”
The thing is, upon repeated viewings of both, BNTH is a better movie. The writing and acting are both better. Period. Menace is basically N.W.A.’s EFIL4ZAGGIN set to film with pretty terrible acting by the principal and a brilliant turn by Larenz Tate. It’s entirely self-indulgent nihilism with a hint of a message and hope. A hint. BNTH, on the other hand, focused heavily on the hope of the future while showing you how short-lived that hope can be. Ultimately, Trey gets out, while Ricky and Dough end up dead, continuing the cycle of violence in L.A. Meanwhile, like, Menace is ALL downhill.
Kaine dies. Sharif dies. O’Dog goes to jail. Tracy has to leave L.A. for Kansas— something he can’t wait to do—down several homies. Chauncey is clearly going to end up dead. Ronnie is heading to Atlanta with her son, but without Kaine and the life she thought she was going to have. The whole shit is fatalistically sad. Nobody ever felt safe. The whole crew missed a “happy ending” that never seemed likely by what amounts to minutes. In BNTH, we expected Trey and Ricky to make it. We believe Ricky didn’t deserve to die, something Dough alluded to the next morning. Kaine dying seemed like karma.
I still like Menace II Society more, but the more I watch BNTH, the execution of the messaging and the acting are why it’s such a revered movie. It didn’t just get there first, it had heart and showed you that it’s possible to elevate out of surroundings where the end is always around the corner in a way that a lot of other ’hood movies ignored for the sake of showing just how real L.A. can be.
5. “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood,” is still one of the most poignant indictments of America’s relationship with black and brown communities ever.
6. In July 1991, Ice Cube was coming off the heels of the classic AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and prepping to release his second classic, Death Certificate, sans Jheri curl, a few months later in October. Cube as an artist and thinker was easily the embodiment of being the most dangerous black man in America in 1991. And his song from the soundtrack, “How to Survive in South Central,” was the perfect match for the movie, like “Streight up Menace” by MC Eiht for Menace II Society or “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem for 8 Mile.
7. Ricky’s death is easily the most heart-wrenching point of the film. But there are two other scenes that hit me hard. First, Doughboy killing Ferris in the parking lot with pain and tears in his eyes is a very moving scene. Dough didn’t know anything else to do but take the man’s life that destroyed his brother’s and yet, he seemed so helpless even in the violence he was inflicting. It’s deep. And second, after Dough and Trey sit on the steps and talk, Doughboy walks off and fades out as we find out that he was killed two weeks later. All I could think of was Dough and Ricky’s mother, burying both of her sons within two weeks of one another. That’s some sad shit.
8. Considering their career trajectories, BNTH really is a murderers’ row of actors: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina King and even Ice Cube and Tyra Ferrell, who had the best lines in Poetic Justice.
9. Was there any better music to accompany the scene were Dough murdered Ferris than Stanley Clarke’s “Black on Black Crime?” That music so perfectly fit the mood of what was happening that I can’t think of the scene without hearing the saxophone.
10. John Singleton deserved every accolade he received for BNTH, as does everybody associated with it. It’s a movie that changed the game that still matters today because while there are others that center on South Central Los Angeles, BNTH showed up and dropped every viewer into a brand new world that hip-hop had been describing for years, making it impossible to forget or ever really leave.