John Singleton: The Passing of a Pioneer in Film

John Singleton, Academy Award Nominee and director, passed April 29th. He suffered a stroke on April 17th, and on April 29 he was pulled off of life support. He is survived by his mother, father, and seven children. Singleton will be laid to rest on Monday by his family in a private ceremony, and public memorials will be held later in the month. For now, fans, friends, and family members mourn his death with tributes and condolences.

Singleton is best known for his critically acclaimed feature debut, Boyz in the Hood, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, and Ice Cube. But Singleton cannot be boiled down to a few movies and some nominations. He was more than just a director or screenwriter; he was an icon, a trailblazer for African-Americans in Hollywood and film. He broke barriers with his honest and compassionate look at the lives of African Americans, drawing from his own experiences and the experiences of those he loved. He wrote critically acclaimed dramas, cult classic romances, and thrilling action movies. He touched the lives of many people and he will be deeply missed.

An alumnus of USC School of Cinematic Arts, Singleton’s feature debut, Boyz in the Hood, was originally conceived before he went to college as Summer of ’84. The film was groundbreaking – not only was it a breakthrough for Cuba Gooding Jr. and Morris Chestnut’s careers and helped propel Ice Cube into film, it has been referenced by numerous musicians and filmmakers. The film has been praised as a compassionate look at urban America and earned Singleton a nomination at just 24 years old for the Academy Award for Best Director. Not only was he the youngest person to ever be nominated he was also the first African American to be nominated as well. Boyz in the Hood continues to be praised to this day – the movie was selected for preservation int he National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Former President Barack Obama praised it in condolences to Singleton and his family.

But Singleton was no one hit wonder. He continued to write, direct, and produce films throughout his career. Just two years after his groundbreaking feature debut, Singleton wrote, produced, and directed Poetic Justice starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Though the film received mixed to negative reviews at the time, it turned into a cult classic with audiences and even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. He followed up with directing Higher Learning in 1995, Rosewood in 1997, Shaft in 2000, Baby Boy in 2001, 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003, Four Brothers in 2005, and Abduction in 2011. His final directorial undertaking was just this year, Poetic Justice: 25th Anniversary Retrospective Featurette. Singleton also produced a number of films such as Hustle and Flow and Illegal Tender, among others.

Singleton even branched out into TV. He directed for 30 for 30, Empire, and Billions. He also directed the episode “The Race Card” in the Emmy Award Winning American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. In 2017, Singleton created, wrote, and directed the crime drama TV Show Snowfall, whose third season is set to premiere this July.

As close friend Ice Cube says in an interview with Chris Haynes, Singleton touched many people with his work, who in turn inspired many more people. The butterfly effect Singleton had cannot possibly be summarized. His impact was tremendous and he will be greatly missed.