Hip-hop may have been born in the ’70s and built its foundation during the ’80s, but the culture as we know truly took over pop culture in the ’90s.
It was the decade where the music, swagger, and style of the concrete jungle — and all that came with it — fully blossomed. Hip-hop entrenched itself in Hollywood, a continuance from the previous decade, where movies like Krush Groove and Beat Street captured the essence of culture, but few would combine the rap aesthetic and the issues plaguing the urban community quite like the 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood.
Directed by John Singleton, Boyz n the Hood centered around the life of Tre Styles, a teenager coming of age during one of the most volatile periods in the history of Los Angeles. Played by Cuba Gooding Jr., Tre and his friends Ricky Baker (played by Morris Chestnut), Doughboy (played by Ice Cube) are three black men with three differing circumstances and perspectives — who are all just trying to stay alive to see 18. As the movie progresses, viewers get a glimpse into life on the gang-infested streets of L.A. — and all of the fun, drama, and danger that comes with it.
Boyz n the Hood went on to become a box-office success and help launch the careers of many of its central characters. By rap fans, it remains as one of the definitive ‘hood classics’ of all-time, but its importance is also found in the harsh realities that the film sheds light on.
Here are ten issues that Boyz n the Hood brought to the forefront that are still relevant and prevalent today.
1. Division Amongst Adolescents
After being called to the front of the classroom to explain that mankind originated in Africa, a young Tre Styles gets into a fight with another classmate at school. His classmate declares that he’s from Crenshaw Mafia, a notorious gang neighborhood in South Central, L.A.Tre is then provoked into starting an altercation which causes him to be kicked out of class and sent home from school. The scene captures the division that can occur between adolescents within the black community at an early age — due to being born in rival neighborhoods, where bad blood stemming from generations past can be carried out by the next.
2. Dreams Deferred
The most memorable scene from Boyz n the Hood is also its most heart-wrenching. We witness Ricky Baker being shot down in the street as part of a gang war between Doughboy’s clique and Ferris’ crew. Ricky, who was heading to USC on an athletic scholarship, had no involvement in any gang activity and was a doting father to a baby boy. With his dreams of a better life for himself and his family hopes of escaping South Central washed away with bloodshed, Ricky is an apt example of a dream deferred. He is a representative of the countless victims of gang and street violence that have also contributed to the obstacles faced daily by minorities across the country.
3. Juvenile Imprisonment
Doug Boy, the brother of Tre’s best friend, Ricky, already appears to be influenced by the criminal activities plaguing his community during the earliest moments of the film. After he and his friend Chris shoplift from a local corner store, Dough Boy is apprehended at his home by police, who place him in cuffs, as his family and neighbors witness the scene.Tre, who arrives as officers are placing Dough Boy into a police car, gets his first example that crime doesn’t pay as he watches his friend make his first foray into the prison system.
4. Black Strife (Trey Wants Revenge)
Fed up with the harsh treatment he’s faced at the hands of the LAPD, Tre Styles is unable to control his anger and goes into a blinding rage, swinging in the air at would-be-cops.He promises vengeance, before bursting into tears and being comforted by his girlfriend. This moment resonates with many viewers twenty-five years later and depicts the emotional strife of males within the black community, who are often the subject of injustice by the same officers meant to protect them.Tre’s girlfriend, Brandi’s (played by Nia Long) presence is also an important fixture in this scene and displays the comfort and strength that black women often provide for the men in their lives.These young people feel damaged as a result of their encounters with those that view them in an inferior light.
5. Fatherhood In The Black Community
Boyz n the Hood challenges the myth that there is a lack of fathers in the black community. The relationship Tre Styles has with his father, Furious Styles (played by Laurence Fishburne), who is asked by Tre’s mother (played by Angela Bassett) to take in his son and teach him “how to be a man.”Throughout various points in the film, Furious Styles imparts his knowledge of his lineage as a black man, as well as deterring him from partaking in the lifestyle some of his friends have chosen. Furious Styles is a strong presence in Tre’s life and is always available to dole out advice on everything from women to how to cope with being a black man in America — and is an accurate depiction of fatherhood in the black community.
The contrast between Tre Styles and Ricky Baker’s mothers is one that may go unnoticed but is an underlying duality that speaks to motherhood in Black America. Whereas Tre’s mother, Reva Styles, is gainfully employed as a lawyer and take an active interest in her son’s life despite her relationship with the father of her child, Brenda Baker, Ricky’s mother, shows preferential treatment to one son (Ricky) over the other due to her ill will towards the child’s father.While Ricky’s fate could not have been foreseen, the love and care that was afforded to Tre and Ricky was withheld from Doughboy, which predictably serves as a subtle catalyst in their respective courses through life and makes it clear that a mother’s love is paramount in a child’s life, especially in the urban community.
7. Police Brutality
Tre Styles and Ricky Baker are pulled over by a pair of policemen, one of whom is an African American cop Tre had previously encountered after an attempted burglary at his home several years earlier. The black cop proceeds to intimidate Tre while writing him off as a potential gang member, and even goes as far as assaulting him and threatening to shoot him.The exchange between the two is one unfortunately very relevant today and speaks to minorities fear of law enforcement and the abuse of authority that a number of police officers are still prone to in 2016.
8. Life-Altering Decisions
One of the more tense scenes in Boyz n the Hood is when Tre decides to join Doughboy, Monster, and Dooky in their quest for vengeance in light of Ricky Baker’s murder. After sneaking out of his home, against his father’s wishes, Tre hops in a car with the crew, with the intent of drawing blood. But as the moment of truth approaches, Tre comes to the conclusion that he’s not built for the gang lifestyle and asks to be let out of the car, a decision that may have very well saved his life.
9. The Cycle Continues
In the final scene from Boyz n the Hood, Tre Styles and Doughboy have a brief conversation outside of their homes following Doughboy’s execution of Ferris and the accomplices in Ricky Baker’s murder. Doughboy, who acknowledges that Tre made the right decision by getting out of the car, appears resigned to his fate of being murdered in retaliation for the murder of Ferris, but ponders why America “don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” The epilogue reveals that Doughboy would, in fact, be murdered in the following weeks after Ferris’ murder.
Gentrification has become a hot-button issue in cities like New York City and Washington D.C., both of which have high concentrations of African American residents. Furious Styles broached this subject in Boyz n the Hood, going as far as to tie it in with the violence and addiction found within black communities. The diatribe is an observation of economics that still rings true in many lower-income communities, even twenty-five years later.