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One of the most undervalued assets in today’s society is institutional knowledge.

While factoids and cut-and-dry timelines about history help color the background of different eras, it’s the stories of the people who had boots on the ground during those rough or glorious times that make it relatable and vivid.

The late writer-director John Singleton helped open the floodgates of the institutional knowledge of people growing up poor and urban and their many struggles and triumphs. Without him, there would be no Ryan Coogler, Lee Daniels, Ice Cube (as an actor), Jordan Peele or F. Gary Gray.

Singleton rose to prominence early, with “Boyz n the Hood” scoring him two Academy Award nominations in 1991 at the age of 24. He remains the youngest person to ever be nominated for Best Director.

Channeling Stephen King’s “Stand By Me” into his own experiences in urban California, “Boyz n the Hood” shocked Hollywood with its unflinching, yet empathetic, tale of three friends, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), “Doughboy” (Cube) and his brother, football hopeful Ricky (Morris Chestnut), trying to make it while being surrounded by drug dealers, corrupt police and gang violence.

Singleton’s loathing of Hollywood’s inability to tell stories from a black perspective, as well as his youthful rebelliousness, worked in his favor with “Boyz.” Big film studios wanted him to turn over his script for another director to helm it. As he said: “I wasn’t going to have somebody from Idaho or Encino direct this movie.”

Singleton’s perspective in “Boyz” is raw and urgent. He captured the wide-eyed, anxious wonder of Tre, a

teen who’s watched his friends die or join gangs, and taught lessons about inner-city violence, gentrification and the disappointment of revenge through Tre’s father, “Furious” (Laurence Fishburne).

Singleton also could feel the current of mainstream music and movies start to change. With hip-hop gaining steam in 1991, with stories of violence, sex and overcoming the odds prevalent with groundbreaking albums from N.W.A., 2Pac, Ice Cube and A Tribe Called Quest, it was time to get those same gritty stories on the big screen.

While Spike Lee already had his foot in the door with classics like “Do The Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever,” Singleton pushed further into the mainstream with “Boyz.” After that came a torrent of hood dramas like “Menace II Society,” “Fresh,” “Juice” and “Dead Presidents.”

Singleton helped usher in black voices and talent to big theaters and continued to do so with movies like “Rosewood,” “Poetic Justice,” “Higher Learning” and “Baby Boy.” He later transitioned to bigger films like “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Four Brothers” and television projects like directing the first season of “American Crime Story” and writing for “Snowfall,” a fitting bookend that, like many films in his canon, centered around different lives and backgrounds colliding.

In his 51 years, Singleton passed on his stories about inner-city life and inspired others to do the same. Because of that, mainstream cinema has a richer, more diverse landscape. His talent will not be forgotten.

— Andrew Gaug | News-Press Now

Andrew Gaug can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug