John Singleton burst onto the movie world with a revolutionary fervor. His first Oscar nominations — for writing and directing “Boyz n the Hood” — came when he was just 24; he was reportedly the youngest person and the first African American nominated as director.
Oddly, those were also his last nominations. In the years that followed, he said, Hollywood was sometimes frustrating. But lately, Singleton — who died today (April 29) at 51 — had found a place known for supporting creative talent: cable’s FX network.
Singleton directed one of the most important episodes of its “American Crime Story” series — the one in which O.J. Simpson’s lawyers play “the race card.” Then he produced “Snowfall” and directed three of the episodes.
“Snowfall” (shown here) weaves complex stories of the 1980s crack boom in Los Angeles, with three fictional forces — one black, one white, one Latino. Smartly layered and sharply filmed, it returns July 10 for its third season; a separate news-and-quick-comments lists FX’s summer dates.
After “Boyz,” Singleton directed movies — “Poetic Justice,” “Higher Learning,” “Rosewood” — that didn’t find the same acclaim. He sometimes switched to action films (“Shaft,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”) and sometimes produced serious documentaries. But with “Snowfall,” he helped launch an example of richly crafted TV. His death came two weeks after a major stroke.
One thing more: Singleton’s second film brought together some interesting people. This is a story Maya Angelou told in a documentary:
“Poetic Justice” had Janet Jackson as a young poet. It uses the poems of Angelou, who was visiting the set when she heard a young man using the N-word over and over. Angelou stepped up, told him to stop, lectured him on the history of the word … and left him in tears.
Afterward, Jackson told her she was astonished. She’d never heard anyone talk that way to Tupac Shakur.