The story of a group of young men growing up in a bleak, violent urban setting is at the core of the film “Boyz n the Hood.” Set in Los Angeles, the film addresses a range of concerns and circumstances that are simply a part of life for many people, and tha5t could be influenced or addressed through various aspects of urban planning. Twenty years after the film was made, gun violence is still a major issue for many cities; there have, for example, been dozens of deadly shootings in the city of Chicago in recent weeks (St. Clair, 2013). The film looks at the circumstances in the lives of the characters primarily through the perspective of the male roles, which makes sense considering how gun violence and other violence affect so many young men. By looking at the life stories of just a few main characters, the film actually makes a much larger point about the nature of life in the inner city.
The film was taken seriously by many critics, and is still considered to be an important portrayal of life in the inner city 20 years after its release (Coons, 2011). It has even generated some academic responses, such as articles that discuss the realistic manner in which gun violence is addressed in the film (Hammond & Young, 1993; n.p.). What the film also shows are how so many of the main characters have so few options in life. Their entire world consists of sitting around drinking, having violent clashes with other groups, and generally going nowhere. And at the midst of all of this is the looming shadow of gun violence. In the scene where the young kids come across a body that has been shot, they are more curious about it than they are scared, which shows how desensitized people in those circumstances can become. Even for those few who have opportunities to get out of the “’hood,” it is not actually education that would get them there. The promise of a college scholarship for one of the characters is really about athletics, not academics.
Another significant issue about urban planning that is directly addressed by the film is the issue of gentrification. There is a pivotal scene in the film where one of the main adult characters attempts to explain what gentrification means to the younger men in the neighborhood. He takes them to a neighborhood in Compton, which is very likely an even worse neighborhood than the one depicted in the film, to show them the practical reality of gentrification. This character points out a billboard that was put up by a company offering cash for homes. In essence, this company is taking advantage of the poorest people who may have no other alternative but to sell their homes for whatever they can get (and presumably move to even worse circumstances). The companies offering cash for homes then attempt to clean and repair the homes and sell them at higher prices to people who can afford them. On one hand, such a process can help to improve a neighborhood in some ways; on the other hand, it drives out the poorest people, the ones who already have the fewest options and opportunities in life.
The film does not attempt to explain to viewers how the issue of gentrification can be made better, nor does it offer solutions about how to lessen or eliminate gun violence. At least the character who is concerned about gentrification is trying to do something about it on a personal level, by working to help people get loans to buy or stay in their house, rather than be forced out by gentrification. This character explains how other ethnicities have managed to maintain the ethnic integrity of their own neighborhoods, and contrasts that with the way that black neighborhoods seem to be the most susceptible to gentrification. While he may not have any broad or long-term solutions, he is at least trying to educate the young people in his neighborhood about the issue and explain some of the ways they can push back against the pressures of gentrification.
The film also addresses the issue of the youth environment, making it clear that the adolescent and young-adult peer groups shown in the film are, in a sense, the strongest and most consistent support system many of these main characters have. Some of the parents and other adults in the film are shown as addicts and prostitutes, or worse, are simply not present physically or emotionally for their children. This set of circumstances leaves the young people in this environment more or less responsible for raising each other. Although the neighborhood is portrayed as containing several tight circles of friends (some of which clash with each other), these young people do not possess the maturity necessary to truly eve understand the problems they face in life, let alone possess the capacity to address them or overcome them. Over and over again the film stresses the fact that life in this ‘hood is often short and violent, and that those who are born into it are really never given access to the kind of information, educational opportunities, or other outlets that would allow them to rise above or escape their circumstances. In fact, the one character who looks like he may make it out of the ‘hood thanks to his football-playing ability ends up dead. This scene demonstrates clearly how the violence often seen in the urban setting can affect anyone and everyone, regardless of any measure of guilt or innocence they may possess.
The point the film reiterates at every opportunity is that this cycle of poverty and violence is trap from which it is almost impossible to escape from the inside. Those who grow up in such surroundings are afford few opportunities to even realize that there are ways to escape, let alone given access to any of these means. The characters in this film have very short childhoods, at least as compared to those who live in less-stressful and tax8ing environments. Children in such settings are exposed to violence and murder from a very young age, and it is just a part of life. That may go a long way towards explaining why some of the characters are interested in marrying young, or why pregnancy rates for young people in general often seem high in urban settings. If life is so short that making it to adulthood is not even close to being guaranteed, then it is perhaps unsurprising that young people reproduce at an age that would seem typically low for adolescents in other settings.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film comes near the end, when several characters are discussing the violence shown on television. In many instances images of war and combat in foreign countries are show, and one of the characters in the film wonders why the violence and strife in his own neighborhood is ignored while problems from other parts of the world are featured on the news. This highlights one of the most significant problems related to urban planning: that it takes attention and a willingness to work to solve problems from the outside, even though many of the worst of those problems only affect those on the inside.
Boyz N the Hood. Dir. John Singleton. 1991. Film.
Coons, Sean. “‘Boyz n the Hood,’ 20 Years Later: The Making of a Movie That Did Race Right.” The Atlantic 30 Aug. 2011: online.
Hammond, W., and B. Yung. “Psychology’s Role in the Public Health Response to Assaultive Violence Among Young African-American Men.” American Psychologist 48.2 (1993): n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
St. Clair, Stacy. “Chicago park shooting that hurt 13 renews focus on gun violence.” Los Angeles Times 20 Sept. 2013: n. pag. Print.