John Singleton, the filmmaker whose groundbreaking 1991 drama “Boyz N the Hood” made him the first African-American director to receive an Academy Award nomination, died Monday. He was 51 years old.
Singleton reportedly checked himself into a Los Angeles hospital earlier this month and suffered a stroke on April 17. His family announced Monday morning he would be taken off life support. His death was announced in the early afternoon. Singleton is survived by his mother and seven children.
“We are sad to relay that John Singleton has died,” the director’s family said in a statement. “John passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends.”
Singleton helped launch a black-cinema renaissance in the 1990s with his debut film “Boyz N the Hood.” Based on his own experiences growing up in Los Angeles, the film featured a breakthrough performance from Cuba Gooding, Jr., as an inner-city teenager and marked the acting debut of Ice Cube as a member of the Crips. The film was widely acclaimed for treating gang violence and inner-city poverty with a rare realism and depth. Perhaps more important, it also caught Hollywood’s attention by making more than $50 million on its $6 million budget. In addition to being the first African American director to receive an Oscar nomination, he was also the youngest to do so.
Doors, if not quite floodgates, opened for black filmmakers during the coming decade. The Hughes brothers directed their own film debut about inner-city life “Menace II Society.” F. Gary Gray directed his first film, the Ice Cube comedy “Friday.” Spike Lee’s cousin Malcolm D. Lee did the same with “The Best Man.” Forest Whitaker also made his directorial debut with “Waiting to Exhale.”
Singleton, meanwhile, worked steadily as a writer-director. He turned to the inner city again for his 1993 romance “Poetic Justice," starring Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson, in her film debut. In “Higher Learning,” he focused on the struggles of several university students. “Rosewood” was a historical drama inspired by a 1923 incident in which a white mob massacred a black town in central Florida. Singleton also directed several action-films, including “Shaft,” starring Samuel L. Jackson as a private eye, and the 2003 sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
After the 2011 action-film “Abduction,” Singleton’s film output ceased and he turned instead to television. His most recent project was as a co-creator of “Snowfall,” an FX series set against the crack epidemic in Los Angeles during the 1980s. The series was renewed for a third season late last year.
"I want to be a true American filmmaker, in the sense that my films are stories that could only happen in America,” Singleton told the Tampa Tribune in 1997. “They speak to the universality of the human experience, but they're quintessential American films."
John Singleton was born Jan. 6, 1968, in Los Angeles to Danny Singleton, a real estate agent, and Sheila Ward-Johnson, a sales executive at a pharmaceutical company. When he was 9, his father took him to see “Star Wars,” helping turn the boy into a future filmmaker. Singleton graduated from USC’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts in 1990 and made his film debut with “Boyz N the Hood” the very next year.
While writing and pitching his script, Singleton always insisted there was only one man who could direct it: himself.
"I think some of these executives are going to find out,” Singleton told the Orange County Register in 1993, “that the more diversity comes in, the more they're going to be successful."
Though best known for his debut film, “Boyz N the Hood,” John Singleton covered a range of topics and genres. Here are some other highlights from his career:
“Poetic Justice” (1993) A romance featuring the rapper Tupac Shakur and, in her first feature film, Janet Jackson.
“Higher Learning” (1995) This drama about students at the fictional Columbus University includes, perhaps presciently, a mass shooting.
“2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) Hopes were not necessarily high for this sequel to “The Fast and the Furious” — Vin Diesel turned it down to do another “Riddick” movie — but Singleton turned it into a $230 million hit.
“Abduction” (2011) As the “Twilight” franchise was ending, star Taylor Lautner laid plans to become an action-star with this thriller about a high-schooler drawn into a CIA plot. It was Singleton’s final film as a director.
— RAFER GUZMÁN