The late John Singleton, in the foreword for Donald Bogle’s new book “Hollywood Black,” tells an affecting story of watching movies at the Century Drive-In in Inglewood, Calif. from his bedroom window, and how, from there, he fell in love with filmmaking and telling black stories.
“Without hearing any sound, I could see horror movies, action films and my favorites, Blaxploitation movies right outside my bedroom window,” Singleton wrote. “I think that marked the beginning of my lifelong movie odyssey to see as many films as I could and to figure out the way that directors, writers, and actors told stories on screen.
“Because I was most affected by the black movies, I asked myself how those black people got on screen? Who put them there?” he continued. “Even then, my struggle was to make the fantasy of filmmaking become my reality.”
Singleton, who garnered an Oscar nomination at the age of just 24 for “Boyz N the Hood,” died on April 29 after suffering a stroke 13 days prior and being removed from life support.
Bogle’s book hit stands earlier this month and chronicles the long history and impact of black films and filmmakers in Hollywood, from the early groundbreaking days of Oscar Micheaux to the likes of John Singleton and most recently Ryan Coogler and “Black Panther.”
“Hollywood Black,” published in a partnership with Turner Classic Movies and Running Press, comes in the midst of a seeming sea change for black creators and artists in the industry. Last year was a record one for black Hollywood: Black filmmakers raked in a record $1.5 billion at the domestic box office from 16 films, which was double the performance from 2017, when nine films from black filmmakers grossed a combined $658.1 million domestically.
In addition, it was the first year in which five films by black filmmakers topped $100 million in North American ticket sales in the same year, a true sign that the industry is opening doors and that black filmmakers are having a moment. Bogle, however, set out to show that while strides are currently being made, black filmmakers have a history of moments in time when they’ve pushed the industry forward.
“It didn’t just start in the new millennium,” Bogle told TheWrap in an interview. “We don’t want [this period] to be an interlude, but one thing I hope people will realize is that we’ve had other periods where things were really changing.”
Singleton, in his foreword, wrote that “Hollywood Black” transported him back to the time when he was discovering the history of black films himself.
“I recall the emotional surge I felt when seeing ‘Do the Right Thing,’ a seminal film that pushed me as a film student to write the screenplay for ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ I also remember the well in my heart seeing the movie version of my childhood comic book hero, ‘Black Panther,'” Singleton wrote. “This book brings all that back to me, and I’ve been all the more enlightened by the great historical links between black filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux and Noble Johnson in the silent era to those bold dudes of the late 1960s and 1970s… right up to the filmmakers like myself and into the new millennium.
“I found this book to be an enjoyable, insightful reflection of how, despite tremendous obstacles, black film artists triumphed in showing their humanity and their brilliance to the world,” Singleton wrote.