Symbolism in ‘Boyz N the Hood’

Hey there, Plotaholics! Shane here for a little more Boyz N the Hood talk.

As you know, Bryan and I covered the John Singleton classic for this week’s episode of The Plotaholics Podcast, which you can listen to here. We covered the plot in a great deal of depth and offered significant analysis of the main characters of the film: Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Darrin “Doughboy” Carter (Ice Cube), and Doughboy’s maternal half-brother, Ricky (Morris Chestnut). Most of our conversation focused on these characters and the story told through their eyes. We also spent a lot of time on how the Crenshaw neighborhood was depicted by Singleton. It’s an excellent discussion, and I think you should absolutely spend some time with that episode of the podcast.

What I wanted to discuss today is a bit of the visual element that didn’t necessarily translate to the podcast. I spent a lot of the podcast discussing Singleton’s use of sound in the film, but there are also so many powerful images.

Pay Attention to the Title Screens

I’ll start here like I did in the episode–with the opening title. Here is the epigraph that opens the film, split into two screens:

This is a powerful statement to open, and it becomes increasingly powerful as the film plays on. What struck me about this moment when watching the film is the first shot that follows these two title cards. The following image ostensibly serves as the first of the film:

So, at face-value, here is a stop sign in the neighborhood where the action of Boyz N the Hood begins. But read as a continuation of the title cards, we can almost hear John Singleton’s voice from behind the camera. “One out of every twenty-one Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male. Stop.” This is the plea of Singleton’s film, and he gives it to us right at the top–like a thesis statement.

The violence in the film is not meant to be glamorized. The violence is meant to serve as a wake-up call. What does Singleton want his audience to understand? Stop hurting each other.


Shut the Front Door!

I mentioned this in the podcast, and we just never got around to it. I found myself paying close attention to the front doors in this movie–especially the front door of Furious Styles’s house.

Early in the film, right after Tre moves in with his father, there is a break-in. Furious gets the drop on the guy and fires two shots at the intruder, but the intruder gets away. Afterward, Styles says “Somebody must have been praying for that fool, cause I swear I aimed right for his head.” The two shots that Styles fired, went straight through the front door.

This door splinters from the force of the .357 Magnum. The shot from outside allows the audience to see all the way into the Styles home from the street. Also, pay attention to this door–flat, non-decorative, and thin. The suggestion here is simple: the basic elements of household security that would work to keep the bad guys out in most neighborhoods aren’t good enough in Crenshaw. Additionally, the intruder enters the house through an open window. This window was clearly left open because A) the southern California heat is hot, and B) the Crenshaw neighborhood is a neighborhood with high poverty rates. The people of Crenshaw can’t afford to sleep with their windows closed, so what good does a door really do?

These are some of the subtle “show, don’t tell” things that the film does so well. What good does a locked door do, if the windows all have to be open because we are too poor to run the A/C in summer?

Obviously, Furious is going to have to replace this door that he put two holes through. The next obvious shot of the front door is much later in the film. Several years have gone by. This is when Tre has retrieved Furious’s gun and intends to avenge Ricky’s death.

This door is different. It is much more decorative, and it seems to be thicker. But look at the center of the door–a window. Where the two holes were previously, there is now a window. In fact, there are open windows all over this movie. The suggestion here is simple: it doesn’t matter if you are in your home–which should be the safest place on the planet–the violence can still find you.

No one in Crenshaw is able to escape the reach of the film’s cyclical violence, and for Singleton, Crenshaw is an allegorical stand-in for the United States as a whole–a country where, in 1996, 1 in 21 Black males would be killed by the hand of another Black male. With Boyz N the Hood, Singleton does a beautiful and heart-wrenching job of opening a window into the African American experience with self-destructive violence, and asking it to stop.

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