Sex & Negrocity

John Singleton on Shtupping, Shaft, and Spike

Best known for his debut Boyz N the Hood, Singleton, like his inspiration Spike Lee, has pursued an idiosyncratic and independent course in the mainstream. Though he set off the 'hood genre, he hasn't really gone back until now, given Higher Learning's campus setting, Poetic Justice's road bonhomie, Rosewood's historical grasp, and Shaft's eye on summer popcorn. He openly credits Spike's Brooklynphilia with forcing him to reveal his own regional accent. "Spike had an off-kilter vision. Even if it was within the black community, it was so Brooklynized. When Do the Right Thing came along I was miffed. I said I got to do my own motherfucking movie. Spike was so strong on Brooklyn, I thought, What's so special about me? I've got to come with L.A. I think the generation that came after us is more Hollywoodized, with a few exceptions like Ted Witcher and George Tillman. There's a segment of this generation of black filmmakers that are just like the white boys. They're just doing the same thing and we are not the same thing. I'm trying to make movies where half the people may like them and half may hate them, same as you find with hiphop music. It's young, audacious, and brash, but you're either going to dance to it or you're not."

According to Singleton, some from black journalism's upper class have not left previews of Baby Boy dancing in the aisles. The phrase "walking around with a pole stuck up their asses" might be a more accurate description of their posture. Some have even proclaimed a sudden unfamiliarity with the blackfolk on screen. Singleton's not feeling them either. "People like that are just bourgie and they can kiss my ass if they think they can tell me what kind of movie I'm supposed to be making. Get real. This is very much an ethnographic film of this time, just like Boyz was. There are no cops, no white people, it's all insular, and doesn't point the finger at anyone else. It stays in the community, all right there. The acting is so on-point you don't see the wheels turning and you feel like you're really in the ghetto watching some people fight and fuck. That kind of realism is unsettling to some people."

"I observe human behavior like other people watch the Discovery Channel."
Photograph by André Souroujón
"I observe human behavior like other people watch the Discovery Channel."

Undaunted by the haters and the denialists, Singleton plans to keep on going against the assimilationist grain. "Everything we do now has to be like The Best Man or Soul Food because they were successful, but I need to continue making films I'm passionate about. South Central is like Queens—it's multiethnic, a dozen stories could come out of there. Nobody wants to go there now because they're too highbrow. I'm trying to make gutbucket, soulful movies that really hit your thing."

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