Shock waves ran through the Black film and television community when word broke last week that trailblazing director John Singleton had suffered a stroke. He actually walked himself into a hospital after experiencing pain in one of his legs. Word came out that he was in ICU and “recovering.”
On April 29, however, Singleton, who first came to attention as director of the 1991 film “Boyz ‘n the Hood,” had been taken off life support and passed.
Filmmakers across the globe went on social media to talk about Singleton’s impact and how he inspired them. Wrote Rob Hardy of Rainforest Productions (“Trois,” “Think Like A Man” and dozens of TV series), “His work inspired me to want to be a director. And when I was starting my career, he was one of the first established filmmakers to give me support and advice. He was a creative guy who was passionate about life. He will be missed.”
An outpouring of condolences
California’s politicians also weighed in. Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43) issued an extended statement that included these words: “My heart is heavy with the news that one of the world’s greatest directors and storytellers, and one of South Los Angeles’ most beloved sons – John Daniel Singleton – has died. There is perhaps no other filmmaker in history that has so artfully chronicled the story and spirit of South Los Angeles as John Singleton. I am among the millions of people around the world who are mourning the loss of this iconic and once in a generation creative talent.”
And from Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), “John Singleton made sure to tell our stories on the big screen in an authentic way that only someone from where he’s from could tell, all while ensuring that our community benefited. By doing so, he changed Hollywood forever, as well as South L.A.
As to his early Oscar nod, she added, “… making him not only the youngest filmmaker ever to receive the honor, but also the first ever Black director to receive that nomination. With “Boyz in the Hood,” Singleton humanized the struggle but also the beauty of life in South Los Angeles. His ability to articulate what he saw in the community not only made him a storytelling legend, but also a cinematic activist – a path that included testifying before the United States Senate about rising homicide rates among youth and decades of dedication to enriching our neighborhoods. We’ll miss you John.”
A wunderkind from South L.A.
Singleton was 51. He achieved success at an early age, considering the barriers and obstacles of a Hollywood that, at the time of “Boyz ‘N the Hood,” had yet to recognize the cultural, historical and financial value of Black life on film. Singleton was just 24 when he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Director for the groundbreaking movie, which is still a favorite among movie aficionados. It also served to expose some actors that remain highly sought after today, including Morris Chestnut.
The actor, who now is one of the stars of “The Enemy Within” on NBC, said on Instagram that he is mourning Singleton and wishes to thank him for “giving me a chance.” Chestnut played Ricky in “Hood,” and it was his first movie role. He also worked with Singleton on “Higher Learning.” Chestnut has been in numerous films and TV shows since then, including Fox’s “Rosewood.”
Other actors who came out in “Hood” include Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube. Singleton also is credited with bringing out the actress in Janet Jackson in “Poetic Justice.” He also directed “Baby Boy,” “Shaft,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and an episode of “American Crime Story.”
Gooding shared on social media how he spent some final moments with the acclaimed director before he passed. “I was able to sit with John privately and whispered in his ear that I loved him and thanked him for starting my career.”
Gooding went on the star in many films after his debut with Singleton, including “Jerry McGuire” with Tom Cruise.
‘A true inspiration’ to Black artists
Other celebrities quick to express their feelings included Chance the Rapper, who said Singleton changed his life, and current hot filmmaker Jordan Peele described the director as a “brace artist and true inspiration. He changed everything.”
Singleton was active. He was the director of the FX series, “Snowfall,” which he co-created and executive produced. The series, centered around the crack epidemic in Los Angeles in the ‘80s, is in its third season and has remained in production, reports Variety. “Everybody is sad, but everybody also is moving forward because that’s what John would’ve wanted,” said Trevor Engelson, who executive produced with Singleton. On the day Singleton passed, the cast and crew used his passing to ignite scenes being shot, Engelson said. “It’s like the actors were hearing what John would’ve said. “Use that real life emotion in your performance.”
There was a genuine outpouring across the board for Singleton, who apparently had a major impact on people both in front of and behind the camera. One of the most poignant memories shared came from Spike Lee, who befriended Singleton when he was a film student at USC. The two kept in touch and supported each other throughout their careers in an industry Lee said, “is not set up for us…” Lee went on to say, “Over many years, people have told me ‘I’m going to be a filmmaker.’ When John said that to me the first time we met, I believed him right away. It was no surprise. With his passion, his heart, the way he talked about his love for cinema and Black folks, I could see John would make it happen. And he did, from day one.”
“Rest in power,” wrote Oscar-winning actress Regina King, who worked with Singleton on “Poetic Justice.”
Ava DuVernay shares memories
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay called Singleton “a giant among us.” She said, “There aren’t many of us out here doing this. It’s a small tribe in the grand scheme of things… His films broke ground. His films mattered.” And from rising star (both in front and behind the camera) Michael B. Jordan, “Like many of us when I heard the news, I wished it wasn’t true. John was a true visionary and social leader. Through his arts he shared many of our truths, and I can honestly say without his works, I may not have been given the chance to express myself in this industry. I’m posting this not in his memory but to speak positive energy around his spirit so we can have more time with him and his soul.”
Singleton’s influences seem never-ending, as even before the brilliant director (and writer – he actually co-wrote “Boyz ‘N the Hood” as well) passed, industry power brokers were singing his praises. Wrote Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”), “There was a time when I was struggling to pay my bills in film school and not sure this town was for me. And one day, not long after ‘Boyz ‘N The Hood’ exploded on the scene, my phone rang. It was John Singleton. John did not know me at all. But someone at USC had told him I was talented and he was kindly calling to offer me some words of encouragement. He told me to keep writing. I never forgot it.”
The list of tributes goes on from Janet Jackson, who wrote, “Thank you for all you have given the world,” and Tyrese, Common, Samuel L. Jackson and Ludacris.
Singleton suffered a stroke, and what happened to him, unfortunately, is not uncommon in the Black community. According to Cardio Smart, African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure by middle age than any other ethnic group.
Stroke dangers in African-American
A study by the site reveals that Black adults are up to two times more likely to develop high blood pressure by the time they are 55 than Whites. And an even more startling statistic… many of these racial differences develop by age 30.
Known as the CARDIA Study (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults), the study tracked the blood pressure of U.S. adults from young adulthood through middle age. It included 3,890 adults between the ages of 18 and 30, all of who were free of high blood pressure at baseline and followed for up to 30 years.
Participants were from four U.S. cities including Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland and enrolled in the study during the mid-1980s.
By the end of the CARDIA study, 75 percent of Blacks had developed high blood pressure, compared to just 55 percent of White men and 40 percent of White women. Depending on a participant’s initial blood pressure, this difference translated to 1.5–2 times greater risk for hypertension among Black adults than Whites.
They also found that regardless of race, a number of factors were associated with increased risk for hypertension, such as being overweight or obese and having a family history of high blood pressure.
Other factors include diabetes, a fatty diet, smoking and a lack of exercise. Adherence to the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which limits salt intake and promotes a heart-healthy diet, is associated with lower risk for hypertension.
The take-home message, according to authors, is the importance of high blood pressure prevention in Blacks beginning at a young age. There are many simple ways to reduce risk for high blood pressure, such as staying active, eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight. Over time, these steps can help significantly reduce risk for high blood pressure, especially when adopted earlier in life.