Hollywood has a number of successful black directors but it’s probably Spike Lee who is the most outspoken and controversial but John Singleton, though with a lesser profile, was much in the same vein as Lee and his debut film, ‘Boyz N the Hood’ which he wrote and directed at 23 earned him a Best Director and Best screenplay Oscar nomination back in 1991, the youngest person ever to earn one.
Born on 6th January 1968 in LA to an estate agent and pharmacy sales executive parents John Singleton grew up in a poor area there and enrolled on a film course in USC to study screenwriting with a script that was to become ‘Boys N The Hood’. The script was so good that the powerhouse agency CAA signed him up even before he completed his college course. He was regarded by the agency as incredibly self confident and talked them into letting him direct the film. Its critical and commercial success earned him a creative freedom unusual for someone so young. He was the first to admit that that having beaten Orson Welles to youngest ever Oscar nominee as director he was worried that his path would also follow the same downward trajectory. Unfortunately his fears proved right. His follow up in 1993 was Poetic Justice a bland road movie starring Janet Jackson as a poetry spouting hairdresser and was the second part of a loose trilogy that was followed by 1995’s ‘Higher Learning’ which attempted to blend several story strands about outsiders with sexuality, colour and political views.
The quality of John Singleton’s films after this continued to be uneven. 1997’s ‘Rosewood’ bombed, a remake of ‘Shaft’ starring Samuel L Jackson suffered from studio interference and the director clashed with the film’s producer, Scott Rudin. ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ was a forgettable addition to what would go on to become a franchise box office juggernaut and his last cinema film was ‘Abduction’ in 2011 another long forgotten drama.
In amongst all of this in 1999 Singleton was charged with battery having punched and chocked the mother of one of his children and bizarrely was ordered by the judge to make a short film about domestic violence. It was only 2001’s ‘Baby Boy’ that saw him return to form with his critique of infantilized modern men but again after this his form fell away and after ‘Abduction’ he turned to directing occasional episodes for TV series that included ‘Empire’ & ‘Billions’.
John Singleton was twice married and twice divorced and had two daughters and a son. He had further relationships which produced four more children. Suffering from hypertension he had a stroke on April 17 and was rushed to hospital where he died on 29th April 2019 aged 51.