Reel Gems | John Singleton

by Tim Gordon

Happy heavenly Birthday to John Singleton, who was born on this day in 1968. An accomplished director, screenwriter, and producer, Singleton burst on the scene with his acclaimed debut film, Boyz n the Hood.

One of the most successful and groundbreaking directors in African-American cinema, Singleton’s films represented the African-American experience in urban populations, focusing on themes such as black masculinity, trauma, racism, and ethnicity.

Inspired by director Spike Lee, Singleton introduced audiences to cinematic urban life on the West Coast. After graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Singleton unveiled a screenplay that was near and dear to him. He made his feature film debut writing and directing Boyz n the Hood, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, becoming, at age 24, the first African American and youngest person to have ever been nominated for that award.

Singleton went on to write and direct several other groundbreaking Los Angeles films, among them Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Shaft, the 11-time Black Reel Award nominated Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Four Brothers. He also teamed with writer-director Craig Brewer to finance and produce the independent film Hustle and Flow, starring Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, and Taraji P. Henson in supporting roles. The film earned two Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor and Best Original Song, winning the latter.

In television, he co-created the television crime drama Snowfall and directed episodes of shows such as Empire, Rebel and the fifth episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special for the latter.

In addition, Singleton was also notable for introducing and casting rappers/musicians in prominent roles such as Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, Janet Jackson, Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, and André 3000.

As the first African-American nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, Singleton has paved the way for several African-American filmmakers including Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Steve McQueen, and Barry Jenkins, who have also gained Academy Awards for their work.