Land of Nostalgia Artist Spotlight: John Singleton


John Singleton

(January 6, 1968 – April 28, 2019)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Director John Singleton arrives at the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

“Pea! Look around, man. You see what I see? I see money. Look at my man over there selling T-shirts. A brother selling pies and papers. Cake Man over there. Everybody moving, making money. Right? While we're standing still, being broke. I figured all this shit out, man. All this. This world moves forward through transactions. Commerce, n*gga. The exchange of goods and services. All the real ballin', successful folks are sellers. All the broke-ass people playing catch-up are buyers. I ain't trying to go out like that. I'm gonna be a seller. I'm gonna get my own business. Change the game.”

– Tyrese “Jody” Gibson. 

(Excerpt from “Baby Boy” released courtesy of Columbia Pictures, 2001.)

John Singleton’s cultural superiority in Los Angeles will reign supreme forever. He was a pioneer; one to transcend into different proportions beyond the common perception that floats around the inner-city — but also use his art to mirror his truth with films like Boyz N The Hood, a take on the under-appreciated love & importance of a Black father raising an adolescent male in the unforgiving steeets of LA. Or, Poetic Justice, a love story starring Tupac & Janet Jackson, no further explanation. Higher Learning, Baby Boy, Shaft, 2 Fast— we could go on. Similarly, Singleton showed us his versatility directing or at least contributing to many small screen projects, The People vs OJ Simpson, Snowfall, and the BET series “Rebel” just to name a few.

Mr. Singleton set a standard for Black culture in the realms of cinema through his God-given purpose. He took inspiration and memories from the streets of South Central in which he was raised and overcame the lifestyle. This magic propelled him to docket each piece of his life into visual memoirs. His mom Sheila, was a pharmaceutical sales executive. His father Danny, was multifaceted in the real estate sector. Together, they were an integral influence on Singleton and pushed him to excel higher than the status quo said he was destined for.

Director John Singleton with Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut filming Boyz N the Hood, in South-Central Los Angeles, 1990. From mptvimages.com.

Growing up in a poverty-stricken area can often put unforeseen boundaries on a child’s ambition. Due to the lack of proper resources, and very few beams of leadership within the community, it is relatively easy for the youth to slip into the two customary career paths that many consider, music and sports. These fields are bestowed upon young black men as the only way out of the hypothetical box we are put into. With a tainted education system and teachers sometimes being the leaders of killing the imagination of our youth, the result usually boils down to a feeling of desperation or survival. Mix that with a curious mind, and the desire for instant gratification along with no outlet to channel restless energy— you have a concoction of turmoil. 

The irony of chasing the so-called easy road leaves slim chances of success & longevity in these two careers. This problem was apparent when John was being raised, just as it is in the present day. Instead of falling into that bubble, John Singleton was a rose growing from the concrete with a vision & undiminished drive to excel past those circumstances. This is an important lesson we can all learn from.

How possible is it to reside in the ghetto while dodging the chaos that comes inches from consuming you? How possible is it to succeed in USC’s filmmaking program to the magnitude of graduating and setting out on a journey to make films that depict his, and most of our struggle? How does that filmmaker then get nominated for several prestigious awards including the Oscars, while continuously elevating every perspective of his artistry? Is it still possible to have that type of extraordinary career which relishes in Black Excellence after such a trying journey that spans from the streets to Hollywood? Well, Singleton's story should let you know that it is very possible to transcend yourself time and time again. The key to that transcendence is defined as persistence. Singleton exemplified what most of us seek within ourselves. That's courage, fearlessness, and an attitude, in which the word NO is not a final destination but a pitstop. Throughout Singleton's career, one universal message has been apparent — never water down your message. 

From left: Jennifer Todd, John Singleton, Stacy Sher, and Kevin Feige (Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

The films and television shows under Singleton's vision or assistance were authentic depictions of a particular group of people. Take Hustle & Flow as an example, produced & co-financed by Singleton himself. Hustle and Flow serves as an honest portrayal of southern culture, dealing with not only pimps & prostitutes, but the dream to flee a depleting lifestyle that ends in one of two ways, dead or in a cell. Although, Terrence Howard did a phenomenal job on the screen (Deee-Jaaay, mane), the visual aspect of what the film represented was what sold it. The window fan in the background which had to be cut off when D-Jay recorded, the sequencing of scenes, the cinematography that glues the creativity together, were all linear details of Singleton’s perspective.

Cast of Hustle & Flow New York Private Screening of HUSTLE & FLOW, at the MGM Screening Room. June 27, 2005. John Spellman / Retna Ltd. 

John Singleton was and remains an image of triumph that signifies how to manifest the passion you were born with. We at Land of Nostalgia, salute and bid ado to a pioneer. We thank you, Mr. Singleton, for pushing boundaries and being steadfast in a field where our stories weren’t being told to the depths you told them.

May you rest in eternal peace, the iconic John Singleton.

Written by Amir Rivers


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