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John Singleton, Director of ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ Dies at 51

Singleton was first African American and youngest ever Oscar nominee for Best Director

John Singleton, the Oscar-nominated director of “Boyz N the Hood,” the 2000 remake of “Shaft” and “2 Fast 2 Furious,” has died. He was 51.

Singleton suffered a stroke 13 days ago. He passed away on Monday after a decision was made to remove him from life support. A statement from his rep says the director “passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends.”

Singleton was the first ever African American and the youngest person to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, which he earned for his 1991 debut film “Boyz N the Hood.” Singleton’s stark and intimate portrait of life on the streets in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles helped make movie stars out of Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube and Angela Bassett. The story also netted Singleton an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

The film was a commercial success, grossing $57.5 million at the box office and falling just outside the top 20 grossing movies of 1991. The success propelled Singleton onto the A-list of Hollywood directors, allowing him the opportunity to direct Michael Jackson’s music video “Remember the Time,” featuring Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

But he also used that platform to express criticism of the entertainment industry at large in failing to recognize and advance the careers of other black filmmakers.

“They want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are. The black films now — so-called black films now — they’re great. They’re great films. But they’re just product,” Singleton said at a lecture to students at Loyola Marymount University in 2014. “They’re not moving the bar forward creatively … When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don’t have anything that’s special.”

Following his breakout “Boyz N the Hood,” Singleton went on to direct such films as “Poetic Justice” (1993) with Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson, the 2000 “Shaft” reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson, “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003) and the 2005 crime thriller “Four Brothers” starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund.

More recently, the USC Film School alum has worked in television, directing episodes of series such as “Empire,” “American Crime Story” and “Billions.” Most recently, he co-created the FX series “Snowfall,” which follows the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles. The show, which premiered in 2017, is due to launch its third season this fall.

In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1993, Singleton addressed the importance of telling stories of underrepresented individuals and cultures and the power film can have on society at large.

“In some ways, I think ‘Boyz n the Hood’ helped get Bush out of office,” Singleton said. “Film is a powerful medium; it has a power to shape and change minds. It has a power to make people think in a way in which they wouldn’t have thought otherwise, and you have to be responsible when you’re dealing with it. Sometimes the media can be more powerful than a gun.”

Read the full statement from Singleton’s family below:

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our beloved son, father and friend, John Daniel Singleton passed away today due to complications from a stroke he suffered last Wednesday

This was an agonizing decision, one that our family made, over a number of days, with the careful counsel of John’s doctors. 

 John Singleton is a prolific, ground-breaking director who changed the game and opened doors in Hollywood, a world that was just a few miles away, yet worlds away, from the neighborhood in which he grew up. 

John grew up in South Central L.A with a love of cinema that showed itself early on. He went on to become one of the most lauded graduates of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Within months of graduating, John returned to South Central to shoot his debut feature, Boyz N the Hood. The movie, which was unusually shot in sequence, masterfully captured a story of friendship, youth and the peril of hard choices in a community marred by gang violence. The film earned special honors at its debut at Cannes and Singleton went onto become the youngest director and first African-American writer-director nominated for the Academy Award.  Two decades later, the film was placed in the Library of Congress, a marker of its cultural and historical significance.

 John loved nothing more than giving opportunities to new talent and his films came to be known for career -making roles with actors who the industry would come to embrace; talents such as Tupac Shakur, Regina King, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Ice Cube, Tyrese and Taraji P. Henson.

Singleton’s work spanned genres and showcased his curiosity and creativity: the remake of Shaft, was a homage to his mentor, Gordon Parks. He also made historical films such as Rosewood and action films such as 2 Fast 2 Furious. Films like Baby Boy and Four Brothers were prescient in the questions they posed about men and the crisis in American masculinity. As streaming platforms created new opportunities in television, Singleton took his talents to shows such as Billions, The People v. O.J. Simpson:  American Crime Story and Empire.  Most recently, he co-created and executive produced the current FX hit drama series Snowfall, in which he engaged such writing talents as Walter Mosley. 

 John was such a supernova in his youth that we forget that he was only beginning to fully assert his gifts as a director. Kurosawa was 52 when he directed High Low. Hitchcock was 56 when he directed To Catch a Thief.   As much as we will treasure his body of work, we were looking forward to the films John would have made in the years ahead. 

 In his private life, John is a loving and supporting father, son, brother, and friend who believed in higher education, black culture, old school music and the power of film.

 John’s confidence in his place in Hollywood was only matched for his passion for the sea.  John kayaked in Marina Del Rey every morning.  His greatest joy, when not on set, was sailing his boat, J’s Dream, up and down the Pacific Coast. The American writer Willa Cather once said, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the storm.”  We who have grown up with John, made movies with him, sailed with John and laughed with John, know the universe of calm and creativity he created for so many.  Now in the wake of his death, we must navigate the storm without him.  It is, for us, heartbreaking.

 Like many African Americans, Singleton quietly struggled with hypertension. More than 40% of African American men and women have high blood pressure, which also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.  His family wants to share the message with all to please recognize the symptoms by going to Heart.org

 We are grateful to his fans, friends and colleagues for the outpour of love and prayers during this incredibly difficult time.  We want to thank all the doctors at Cedars Sinai for the impeccable care he received. 

 John Daniel Singleton will be survived by his extraordinary mother, Sheila Ward, his father, Danny Singleton and his children Justice, Maasai, Hadar, Cleopatra, Selenesol, Isis, and Seven.  

 Details about memorial services will be provided at a later date.