Sunday, September 4, 2011

Boyz n the Hood and a boy in a small town

I can't remember how old I was when I first saw Boyz n the Hood.  For some reason, my brain puts me in a movie theater when Laurence Fishburne shoots a giant hole through his front door.  I'm not sure that was possible since I was only 10 when the movie came out.  I definitely wasn't older than 13.  Either way, it underscores the impact the movie had on me when I watched it for the first time and the way it still affects me.  Since I was about 16, I had the movie poster hanging in my room.  Even now, quotes from the movie come to my mind that I want to say, but most of the time they are inappropriate or no one will understand.  ("We got a problem here?  I said, we got a m-f'in' problem here" as I lift my shirt.) 

Growing up in Round Rock, Texas was almost nothing like South Central Los Angeles.  I rode my bike everywhere.  Even the "bad part of town," "the Flats," was a place I had several friends and where one of my favorite parks still is.  We had gangs that increasingly got worse as I grew up, but even then it was always a joke about whether certain people had "flip-flopped" to Bloods or Crips this week.  People still used their fists to fight and almost everyone was getting a good education even if they weren't trying hard to get it.

South Central L.A. is so notorious that "South Central" anything brings images of innercity.  Before Boyz, people knew about L.A., but it was always from a mainstream media perspective, which usually focused on the crime rather than the communities of struggling people.  The fact that it is home to America's modern gangs is well documented.  On many levels, South Central Los Angeles stood in direct contrast to much of the life I knew in Round Rock.

But for some reason I connected to this movie.

Here's a theory on why this movie hit me like it did and still does.  One of the keys to the film is that it is told from an insider's perspective.  It's not a story that sees Crenshaw from above or from outside.  Also, it doesn't seek a "good vs. evil" divide that so many other innercity stories tell.  The movie is about Tre and his friends trying to figure out life in a place where friends and enemies are right next to each other, while the American dream of "opportunity" always seems far away. 

The fact that it is not told from the "white guilt" perspective that has been popularized by movies like The Blindside and The Help also gave it a different vibe.  The movie is about the people in the struggle, not about those who come to rescue them.  Singleton told a story about life, not a story about escape and rescue.

Finally, despite the violence of the movie and what the media reports said at the time, the movie is about seeking a solution.  It is definitely a movie that expresses the bravado of violence while recognizing that violence only begets violence.  This is also something unique among most movies. 

(I realize I'm blabbering now.  Like so many blog entries, the vision is always greater than the actual words on paper.)

If something affects you deeply, it changes you.  Partially because of this movie I recognize a world outside of the pretty suburbs or nice parts of town.  I have sought to learn more about a world I was blessed enough to not be immersed in while growing up.  Despite my lack of this experience, I have learned to deeply respect those who have struggled through this life.  I'm quick to praise those who are able to sieze opportunity, and I'm slow to judge those who remain trapped.

The biggest change is that I don't just see the wrong of the person, but I'm able to see the environment the person is from and how that shapes them as a person.  It's not about condemning Ice Cube's character, but about all of us coming together to condemn our allowing a society to be created and sustained where people have to turn to drugs and violence just to survive.

Boyz n the Hood sent me down a path I remain on today. 

Must reads:  "What does hip-hop tell us about our faith and society?" and "Boyz n the Hood, 20 Years Later: The Making of a Movie that Did Race Right."

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