Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Some movies, like American Graffiti and GoodFellas transcend their immediate narratives, serving as both a quality story as well as a cinematic time capsule, a window into a specific time and place. Boyz n the Hood is one such film.

It focuses on two friends growing up in South Central Los Angeles and the diverging paths their lives take; Tre is an intelligent, yet apprehensive, virgin who can’t wait to get out of Los Angeles, while Ricky is already a father, plays football, and has a 2.3 GPA. Most movies would let the story end there, and build up some condescension from Tre or resentment from Ricky, but there’s none at all – they go about their lives on their own, and all their interactions are positive, genuinely moments of friendship.

Nothing about Boyz n the Hood, frankly, is shallow or short-sighted. It’s a stunningly dimensional film, with a cast of well-rounded and believable characters: Tre’s father “Furious” who instills high values in his son while reminding him of the realities of societal prejudice; Ricky’s mother, both critical and optimistic for her son’s future; and most notably, Ricky’s brother “Doughboy” (portrayed by Ice Cube), an ex-con who sits around drinking all day but is so charming he steals the show.

It almost feels like 1970s Steven Spielberg could have directed this movie, with a rich “slice of life” foundation upon which the drama unfolds. One of my favorite scenes was Doughboy’s welcome home barbecue when he comes home from prison, with the men playing dominoes on one half of the backyard and the women congregate on the other. It’s comedy, sexual politics, and nostalgia all in one.

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Who wouldn’t invite them to their barbecue?

Even when the drama hits, it’s not straight from the immediate band of players – an omnipresent, yet mostly absent, threat finally attacks as an unexpected escalation. The enemy is not a participant in everyday life, but an indirect Other, a sleeping giant waiting to strike.

I applaud Boyz n the Hood not only for its steady change-over-time story about two friends growing up under difficult circumstances, but for how well it shapes its characters into fully realized human beings. These could be anybody’s neighbors, brothers, wives. Most of us don’t live in South Central, but this story can speak to anyone with its powerful portrayal of community.

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