'Boyz n the Hood' Boosts Debate on Urban Violence


ERUPTIONS of violence have been reported in locations where "Boyz n the Hood" recently opened. The nature of this film, which argues against youth-gang warfare and the conditions that cause it, bears out the conclusion some observers drew when similar events marred showings of "New Jack City" a few months ago. There is no one-to-one connection between these incidents and the content of the films themselves - indeed, more than one outburst has occurred before the movie started, among people who arrived too late for sold-out screenings. What is to blame is a ghetto-bred sense of hatred and suspicion that festers within too many of today's inner-city youngsters, quite apart from the movies they happen to see. This doesn't mean all filmmaking is benign. Some movies are indeed irresponsible in the way they condone or even cheerlead for violent attitudes. But a number of recent pictures, including "Hangin' With the Homeboys" and "Straight Out of Brooklyn" as well as "Boyz n the Hood," are the work of minority-group filmmakers who have made it their specific business to expose and criticize such attitudes through their stories. Even the more conventional "New Jack City," which does lapse into excessive violence a t times, does so in the service of an antidrug message stronger than that of any mainstream film in recent memory. Not unreasonably, young African-American and Hispanic audiences want to see pictures about young African-American and Hispanic characters. Many of these moviegoers live in poor urban neighborhoods, which - given the history of economic and cultural decay in American inner cities - usually have few (if any) local theaters. Moviegoers must travel to other areas where the films are playing, and if members of rival gangs or factions are involved, they and their poverty-spawned hostilities come into unusual a nd dangerous proximity to one another. To blame the content of a "Boyz n the Hood" for any resulting violence is to use the film as a scapegoat for profoundly deep-rooted and shamefully long-lasting social problems that Americans ought to be confronting and conquering instead of dodging and rationalizing. "Boyz n the Hood," about a young African-American growing up in south central Los Angeles, has an unmistakable message attacking gang activity, racial bigotry, and inner-city violence. It deals forcefully with the need youngsters have for strong family guidance, centering much of the action around the protagonist's relationship with his father, who is pictured as strong and honest but never unrealistically heroic or saintly. Avoiding the sort of oversimplification that has spoiled some past movies on rac ial issues, it paints a tough-minded portrait of racism as a double scourge - not only inflicted on black people by whites, but also working its insidious way into the black community itself. Powerfully acted by a first-rate cast that includes veteran actor Larry Fishburne (familiar from "School Daze" and "The King of New York," among other films) and rap singer Ice Cube, the picture marks an amazingly auspicious debut for John Singleton, the African-American newcomer who wrote and directed it. While it is regrettable that his efforts have been greeted with outbursts of violence, these very incidents point up the need for movies exactly like this - films that address such inner-city plagues a s violence and drugs; and reveal causes, such as poverty; and suggest solutions, such as firm parental guidance; and do all this with an explosive honesty that may actually attract the audiences who need the message most and may make an impression on them once they are in the theater. MALCOLM X, the subject of black filmmaker Spike Lee's next film, asserted in his 1965 autobiography that "only such real, meaningful actions as those which are sincerely motivated from a deep sense of humanism and moral responsibility can get at the basic causes that produce the racial explosions in America today." To those words one might add the on-screen epilogue of "New Jack City": "If we in America don't confront the problem ... realistically - without empty slogans and promises, but by examining wh at motors the human soul on the course of spiritual self-destruction - then ... we shall be forever doomed to despair in the shadows...." Each in its own way, the best of today's minority-made films are attempting to shed light on ever-more-urgent racial tensions. Attacking the films instead of the challenges they address won't help accomplish the underlying goal suggested by the last words "Boyz n the Hood" casts on the screen: "Increase the peace."

'Boyz n the Hood' is rated R.

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