Today is my 45th birthday, but I don’t feel like celebrating. Like many people in this country and around the world, I have been completely wrecked by the events that have transpired since May 25th, starting with the senseless murder of George Floyd. And like many people, the words to express how I feel escape me.
The last few days, I’ve been lost in my own thoughts and anger, not really sure how to even formulate a coherent thought on the subject of what’s been going on...or if even me writing or saying anything matters to anyone. Maybe it’s selfish for me to think that I have anything to offer...it's certainly selfish for me to feel any catharsis in writing these words.
A couple days ago, I opened a birthday card that my dad sent me, and the words printed inside made me cry...
I can’t look at you without feeling a surge of pride.
I can’t hear your voice without smiling.
I can’t remember your growing-up years without a little tug at the heartstrings.
I can’t let your birthday go by without reminding you how very much your loved.
Astute coherency started to form.
In the summer of 1991...almost 30 years ago...I saw a movie that completely ruined me, and it added to the list of reasons as to why I wanted to be a filmmaker. It changed my life and gave me focus.
It wasn’t your typical flashy summer movie like TERMINATOR 2 or POINT BREAK...it was a small little drama about a boy from a broken marriage who goes to live with this dad in the hopes that he could learn how to become a man. As the precocious boy grows into the upstanding young man that his mother hoped he would become, college is on the horizon for him and his football-playing best friend...they want better lives for themselves and their families...but trouble comes knocking and takes the life of the boy’s football-playing best friend who had just gotten a full-ride football scholarship to USC.
I’m not 100% sure, but I think I cried during that movie. I could relate...I was that boy. We had no money, and I came from a broken home, and while I didn’t go live with my dad to learn how to become a man, I subconsciously wanted that very much, not because I didn’t love my mother, but because a boy just needs his dad. I had big dreams and couldn’t wait to leave Tulsa, Oklahoma, not because I didn’t like the city, but because it was too small to contain my larger than life wants and dreams. I didn’t have a friend who’s life was taken from them, but I did have a friend who’s dreams changed because she got pregnant, and instead of going to college she became a mom.
I was Tre Styles from the movie BOYZ N THE HOOD. I didn’t see black kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles...I saw me growing up in poor neighborhoods in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It never once occurred to me that I was different than the characters I saw in that movie. It never once occurred to me that I was white and they were black. At 18 years old, John Singleton had more life experience than most people 2-3 times his age. The idea for what became BOYZ N THE HOOD was one of a few that got him into the film writing program at USC...a program, by the way, that is VERY hard for ANYONE to get into. After winning several writing awards, and while still in college, he was signed to the largest talent agency in the world at the time...CAA...and sold BOYZ N THE HOOD to Columbia Pictures which green lit the movie immediately. While it didn’t win any Academy Awards, at 24 years old, John Singleton became the youngest PERSON to be nominated for best director at the 1992 Academy Awards. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was the big winner that year, and John Singleton lost to Director Jonathan Demme. John Singleton was also nominated that year for best original screenplay and lost to Callie Khouri for THELMA AND LOUISE.
Up to that point, I never really considered writing AND directing. I loved the English language and the written word. I knew I wanted to make movies, but I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to do. BOYZ IN THE HOOD changed all of that for me. I knew what I wanted to do. John Singleton quite literally wrote what he knew, and maybe not intentionally, he crafted a story that transcended race and gave some poor white kid in middle America a direction on what to do with his life.
We visited USC during spring break in 1992...about a month before the riots, and being from a relatively small town, I was intimidated by the city of Los Angeles, so I let fear talk me out of even applying to USC and it’s one of the few professional regrets that I have.
So why is any of this relevant to what’s going on right now, and my honest answer is, I don’t know.
I just finished watching BOYZ N THE HOOD again recently, and this time I can say for sure I absolutely cried and not for the same reasons that my 16 year old self cried. This time, I didn’t identify with Tre Styles as much as I did back then. The same memories and feelings still exist...but they’ve been forged in the fire of time and experience and that youthful naivety has been polished, shaped and transformed into something much more refined...now...I relate to Furious Styles...Tre’s father.
“Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”
“The best way you can destroy a people is taking away their ability to reproduce themselves.”
“You’re my only son, and I’m not gonna lose you to some bullshit.”
I’m a father now, and those words resonate with me more now than they did when I was 16. Twenty-nine years later, and a script that some 21 year old wrote still packs a punch and has meaning, and it’s not even about race.
Whether he did it intentionally or not, John Singleton wrote a script that tapped into something that’s universal and human. He wrote a script about wanting something better for his life, his community and his future. He wrote a script about family and friendship. He wrote about LOVE.
If we don’t have love, then we have nothing. Love is an individual act. We have it, or we don’t. Institutions cannot love or act in love if the people within those institutions don’t have love. Empathy...charity...selflessness...those are all qualities that have their root in love. Love is an action because it requires WORK. You have to ACTIVELY love someone. It’s a verb not a noun. I can say that I love my wife all day long, but if I don’t show her that I love her, then it’s meaningless, and I fail everyday in showing her and my two sons how much I love them.
The words in the birthday card that my dad sent me tore me up something good because immediately every memory of my dad SHOWING me that he loved me and my sister rushed to the forefront of my mind. He wasn’t physically present every day of us growing up, but he worked his butt off financially providing a better life for his two kids. He was in my hospital room 24/7 when I had brain surgery at 12 years old to remove a tumor.
So when I think of what’s happened in the last week or so, it makes me angry that a little girl will never see her father again...angry that a little girl won’t have an over-protective father waiting up at night to make sure her date brings her home before curfew...angry that a little girl won’t have her father surging with pride as he sees her graduate from high school and college...angry that a little girl will never have her father walk her down the aisle on her wedding day...angry that a little girl will never have a grandfather to her kids.
I pray that I never have to experience the pain of losing someone at the hands of another person, and we all grieve differently. And sometimes, pouring alcohol on a wound is what’s needed to clean out potential infection.
I grew up in church, and while I am human, I try hard to live a Christ-like life which may surprise some when they hear me talk like a sailor or say things completely inappropriate to illicit a reaction. Never have I believed Ephesians 6:12 more than the last few months.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places.”
I’m not trying to wax philosophical, but there are forces at play that are trying very hard to pull us apart...that are trying very hard to get us to fight with each other instead of loving each other...that are trying to get us to focus on our differences instead of seeing how we’re the same...how we want the SAME things.
It’s easier to prey on people’s fear than it is to give them hope. It’s easier to tear someone down than it is to build and lift them up and show them how much they are loved. More hate is not the medicine to heal hate. You don’t answer injustice with more injustice.
As Furious Styles says in BOYZ N THE HOOD...”They want us to kill ourselves.”
It's easier to exercise control over a population that is too busy fighting each other. Every puppet has a puppet master.
Don’t be a pawn in someone else’s chess game. If you want change...if you DEMAND change...then start with yourself. Be the change that you want to see. Treat people the way YOU want to be treated. You can't control what others do or how they respond to what you do, but you can control yourself and how you respond. Appropriating a hashtag or changing your social media profile picture to a black square or an equal sign or a rainbow flag does nothing for the people that you say you want to help...all it does is make YOU feel better that you’re showing everyone else how woke you are.
You want change in the justice system? Great...then when that jury summons comes in the mail, fill it out and sit on a jury. You don’t have the right to complain about injustice and then try your hardest to get out of the functions of how that justice works.
You want justice and change in the political system? Great! Then stop voting for the very same people that have promised you for DECADES that if you vote for them, they’ll fix those problems that never seem to get fixed because the reality is that they’re too concerned with getting re-elected than they are with fixing the actual problem the promised to fix, so they perpetuate the problem and continue the re-election promises that they have no intention of fixing. All politics is local. Most political “careers” start on your local school board. In fact, the most direct and impactful change that you can bring is through your school. Most funding for schools is based on property taxes which is why schools in Beverly Hills are better funded than schools in Compton, but don't for a moment think that a student in Beverly Hills is better "educated" than a student in Compton. If that were true, then you wouldn't have rich white celebrities committing fraud and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheat and get their spoiled-brat kids into a college they don't even want to attend.
Also something to keep in mind...information is power. It’s easier to illicit an emotional response than it is to generate a rational thought. The best kind of manipulation is when the subject doesn’t even know they’re being manipulated. If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, it becomes the truth. Nobody knew that better than Joseph Goebbels himself, and Hitler knew that which is why Goebbels was his right hand man. When you control the message, you control the masses.
One of the best lines ever in a movie is from THE USUAL SUSPECTS: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”
Just because the news doesn’t tell you that cops mocked and killed a white man in the same way they killed George Floyd, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and the color of his skin doesn’t devalue the injustice. If a tree falls in a forest, but there's no journalist to report it, did it happen?
"There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently." -Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture
John Singleton died last year, and I was devastated. I never got a chance to meet and tell him how much he inspired and informed my desire to make movies. I found out after the fact that I had worked with someone who had become his manager, so the only thing that I can hope to do is to pay forward that inspiration that he gave to me.
I end with a quote from Doughboy in BOYZ N THE HOOD who said these words at end of the movie while pontificating about what he sees being portrayed on the news every night and lamenting that there was no mention of the death of his brother the day before: “Either they don’t know, don’t show or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
Sadly, The truth is in all three of those statements.
1 Corinthians 13:2 - If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.