By Josh Simpkins
Special to the Sun
As I was researching, double-fact-checking as it were, information for an article I was writing, I received correspondence that stopped me and my article cold. It pains me to report that visionary writer-director and industry pioneer John Singleton—who was the first African American to earn a Best Director Oscar nomination for Boyz n the Hood (1991)—passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, California on Monday, April 29, 2019. He was 51.
Singleton suffered a stroke after experiencing weakness in his legs and was admitted to the hospital on April 17. He was taken off life support Monday and died a few hours later.
John Daniel Singleton was born on January 6, 1968, in Los Angeles, California, the son of mortgage broker Danny Singleton and pharmaceutical company sales executive Sheila Ward. Raised in separate households by his unmarried parents, Singleton grew up in South-Central Los Angeles, which became the setting for much of his work as a writer and director. He attended the Film Writing Program at USC after graduating from high school, winning three writing awards from the university, and turning his student thesis into the screenplay for his 1991 landmark film Boyz n the Hood.
Fresh out of college with no credits under his belt, Singleton boldly insisted that he be the one to helm the film when Columbia Pictures approached him about optioning the Boyz screenplay, not wanting a middle-class, Anglo-Saxon male from the Valley directing his gritty, raw look at life for African-American youths in communities torn apart by drugs and violence. Singleton convinced the Powers that Be at Colombia directing the movie and earning Oscar nominations for original screenplay and for directing. Not only becoming the first black director to land an Academy Award nom, but also the youngest person to nab a directing mention, at the age of 24.
Singleton was vocal about Hollywood’s poor track record in recruiting black filmmakers to tell black stories. As a producer, he shepherded films including Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow (2005) and Franc. Reyes’ Illegal Tender (2007). He went on to direct such films as Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), a remake of Shaft (2000) and the second installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. He also directed episodes of Billions and Empire, not to mention launching two drama series, BET’s Rebel and FX’s Snowfall. Rebel, which revolved around a savvy female detective, lasted one season. Snowfall, which examines the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, has been renewed for a third season to air in 2019.
John Singleton is survived by five children. His mark on the film industry will inspire generations of filmmakers to come. Rest in Paradise, John Singleton.