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John Singleton dies at 51: Report

May 30, 2019

John Singleton died Monday, TMZ firstreported, hours after several news reports incorrectly said the pioneering black film director was already dead.

The 51-year-old director of “Boyz N the Hood,” “Poetic Justice” and the “Shaft” remake was removed from life support earlier Monday, 12 days after suffering a debilitating stroke.

The Singleton family issued a statement saying that Mr. Singleton passed “peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends.” The family noted that like “more than 40% of African American men women,” he had”quietly struggled with hypertension.”

Samuel L. Jackson, whom Mr. Singleton directed in the 2000 remake of the blaxploitation classic “Shaft,” said Monday afternoon that he was “mourning the loss of a collaborator True Friend John Singleton.

“He blazed the trail for many young film makers, always remaining true to who he was where he came from!!! RIP Brother. Gone Way Too Soon” Mr. Jackson continued.

Raised in South-Central Los Angeles, Mr. Singleton burst onto the world cinema scene in 1991 with “Boyz N the Hood,” a film that, while not directly autobiographical, was about the life and the gang violence he had observed in that neighborhood. It starred Cuba Gooding Jr., then an unknown, and rap star Ice Cube.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for best director at age 24, both the youngest person and the first black person to be so honored. His script for “Boyz N the Hood” also was nominated for an Oscar, though Mr. Singleton didn’t win either prize.

The National Film Registry selected “Boyz” for preservation in 2002, just a decade after it was made and had kicked off a cycle of urgently realistic movies about young blacks struggling against violence, poverty and racism in America’s inner-city neighborhoods.

Critic Matt Zoller Seitz, writing on Twitter on Monday, called “Boyz” “a classic, as close to American Neorealism as studio movies get” and named Mr. Singleton “one of the most important filmmakers of my generation, a groundbreaker for both African-Americans and people raised working-class (so many wealthy legacies in that industry).”

He citedas one of the film’s highlights the moment “where Doughboy just fades away, like River Phoenix’s character in STAND BY ME. Characteristic of Singleton’s brilliance to draw that link. Two coming-of-age stories, but only one has innocence.”

Mr. Singleton went on to have a lengthy career, directing Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in “Poetic Justice,” casting Mr. Jackson as the nephew of the legendary detective John Shaft and getting Richard Roundtree to bless the project by making a cameo, pushing such actors as Regina King and Taraji P. Henson into the spotlight, making the socially-conscious campus film “Higher Learning,” and helming a box-office blockbuster in “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

Writing about “Poetic Justice” at RogerEbert.com, critic Odie Henderson said the film “was like very few other Black films before it, a standard issue road trip movie that existed in a refreshingly lackadaisical, plotless and character-driven ether; it meandered likeEric Rohmerand swore likeRichard Pryor.

“The movie made viewers flies on the windshield of Tupacs post office truck, looking in on him andJanet Jacksonas they navigated the prickliest of near-romances,” he concluded.

Mr. Singleton’s high-profile producer credits include the critic favorite “Hustle Flow” with Terrence Howard, the FX hit series “Snowfall” and”The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

He also directed part of the Simpson series, plus episodes of “Empire” and “Billions.”

Mr. Seitz said “he continued to tell stories that drew on his experience--most recently as an exec producer and codirector of the first season of AMERICAN CRIME STORY, about race politics in LA.”

While Mr. Singleton applauded Hollywood’s greater willingness to make black films, he also criticized the industry for racism for reducing the stories to “product” and for unwillingness to take creative risks with black auteurs.

“They ain’t letting the black people tell the stories,” he said in a 2014 appearance at Loyola Marymount. “They want black people [to be] what they want them to be. And nobody is man enough to go and say that.”

He continued that “the black films now [are] great films. But they’re just product. They’re not moving the bar forward creatively ... When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don’t have anything that’s special.”

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