John Singleton’s 1991 film, Boyz N the Hood, presents a number of contemporary issues calling for or suggesting dispraise. Among these, the theme of community demands particular attention, and because the film emphasizes how urban environments, racial inequality, and gang violence may become primary influences, and of kinds inevitably creating misery. On one level the film emphasizes the positive values of community. More to the point, it stresses a need for a sense of community and fellowship in young people. The boys in question, no matter how they evolve individually, share the universal need to connect to peers and assist one another in maturing. On different level, these same imperatives become hopelessly corrupted when the environment is defined as marginalized; the pervasive atmosphere of inequality, largely created by racial injustice, prompts the youth to pursue avenues for development which are negative and ultimately leading to self-destruction. Issues of guns and role models are within this scenario, and create influences and realities all their own. In the final analysis, however, Boyz N the Hood is centered on the urgency for community in the lives of children and adolescents, which in turn goes to community that is supportive and not severely weakened by racial inequality and the gang violence generated so often as a consequence.
The beginning of the film emphasizes the importance of issues of racial injustice as corrupting and defining neighborhoods, and consequently any sense of positive community. At ten, Tre Styles moves to the South Central neighborhood to live with his father, Furious, who is very much a strong male role model. The idea is that Furious will provide the boy with the foundation he requires, and it is a valid motivation. Extensive research confirms that troubled adolescents and children benefit greatly from a single positive role model, and this is particularly true of African American youths (Lee 411). At the same time, even Furious’s behavior is marred by how he must address a community in which racial injustice is a norm, as when the police treat him with contempt after he himself deals with a burglar.
What this reveals, in fact, is how any community is powerfully affected, if not defined, by how members of it are treated. If Furious is ultimately a strong role model, he himself suffered from injustice, and that same injustice drives the gang activity eventually involving Tre. In coming together again with old friends, Tre is reintroduced to the foundation of gang violence of the neighborhood, in which alliances are forged to provide senses of identity and protection. Fortunately for Tre, Furious dominates and guides him to positive development, but there remains an important reality; Tre requires fellowship and friendship with his peers, all all young people do. This goes to community support in that the fellowship helps to shape the community, but the friendships in this urban environment are too based on a foundation of racial injustice influences.
The film then reinforces how the urban environment corrupts the intrinsic quality of community when the children are seen grown up, and because gang violence becomes a norm. Doughboy has done time in prison, and Chris must use a wheelchair because of a gun injury. Tre is a responsible young man, but the violence in the neighborhood, centered on the gang activity, is a pervasive and harmful reality. A trajectory of sorts is in place; as the families live in a racially marginalized environment, the inevitable turning to fellowship becomes adversarial and violent as the boys seek to “fight back” and construct strong identities, and this in turn perpetuates a community deeply corrupted. Furious is intent on keeping Tre away from the gangs, but interaction is inevitable, as the members are childhood friends. Loyalty is established as a powerful motivation for gang membership, mainly because it has great meaning in all adolescent friendships (Cullen, Wilcox 698).
It exists, in other words, because it is integral to the development of the youth community within the larger. As this environment is so infused with injustice and violence, it follows that Tre’s maintaining of ties with his friends reflects the negative, violent realities. Tre ultimately succeeds, chiefly because of his innate character and the guiding influences of Furious as defying the gang culture. Nonetheless, the larger reality is that this is a landscape powerfully damaged, and consequently creating damage in its youth. The boys generally suffer lives torn by violence, and because the environment translates the natural urgency for community, and for young people coming together to assist in their development into maturity, to a virtual need to establish gangs and then engage in consistent violence. Ironically, research affirms that gang ties are so strong, members adhere to them and to the violence even when alternative lives are offered (Decker 268). The gangs are then the community, and consequently exist as wholly negative realities of what should be a supportive experience and collective environment.
As noted, more than several social elements interact within film. Boys N The Hood summary reflects how the power of guns, the influences of family, and the struggle of finding personal identity are among them. The film in general terms, however, underscores a certain reality: community is critical to the development of the child and adolescent and, when that community is based on negative forces, the community is completely altered and becomes damaging. This occurs, certainly in the film, through the twin factors of racial inequality and the turning to gang culture then adopted by the young people. If Tre is fortunate in having a strong father, even he is subject to bias demeaning his identity. As the bias filters down, the young men pervert the natural motivation to come together into gang life, and violence then marks their lives and often defines their futures as hopeless. Ultimately, then, Boys N the Hood demonstrates that the organic and vital presence of community may be so greatly distorted by racial injustice that gangs evolve, and create vastly different – and destructive – forms of community.
- Boyz N the Hood. Dir. John Singleton. Perf. Cuba Gooding, Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and Ice Cube. Columbia, 1991. Film.
- Cullen, Francis T., & Wilcox, Pamela. Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010. Print.
- Decker, Scott H. Life in the Gang: Family, Friends, and Violence. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
- See, Letha A. Human Behavior in the Social Environment from an African-American Perspective, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013. Print.