Life really comes at you fast sometimes. That’s how I felt when hearing about the passing of John Singleton a few weeks ago. John left behind a legacy that extended far beyond the movie screens where his films resonated.
John Singleton was part of a new wave of black creators in the late 80’s and early 90’s that were really changing how black people were depicted in cinema. This is a man who was nominated for an academy award for best director at just 24-years-old — barely a year removed from film school. This is someone who through various projects worked with such luminaries in entertainment from Tupac, to Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Maya Angelou, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ving Rhames. His films really resonated with a number of black people who up until that point, rarely saw themselves or their stories depicted on the big screen.
I first became aware of John Singleton’s work through the 1997 movie Rosewood. Based on a true story, the film depicts the terror that white residents inflicted against their black neighbors in 1920’s Florida when a white woman falsely accused a black man of raping her. Had it not been for this film, I probably would have never even heard of this story. Sadly, what happened in Rosewood, Florida, was not an isolated incident.
As I got a little older I gained a greater appreciation for Singleton’s work. Boyz N’ the Hood was his landmark film that put him on the map. Having grown up in Compton, California, Singleton told a story that was familiar to him. That film had a lot of nuggets in it, including a very prescient speech on the nature of gentrification.
Some of Singleton’s other work also left an indelible mark on me. Poetic Justice, Shaft, and Higher Learning (which in light of recent events, is definitely worth another look). Even some of Singleton’s later work that may not have been as well received, such as 2 Fast 2 Furious, nevertheless proved to be vitally important years later. It was that film that introduced audiences to Tyrese and a young and up and coming rapper named Ludacris. Both of these characters would become solid cogs in the series in later iterations throughout the ensuing years.
More recently, Singleton was involved in a series on FX that I rally enjoyed called Snowfall. Snowfall centered on the rise of crack cocaine in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. It’s one of those shows where the viewer knows more than the characters in terms of how things play out, but it’s still interesting to see how things come together. Sadly, Snowfall would turn out to be John Singleton’s last project. R.I.P. to John Singleton.