Quick Answer: "Boyz N The Hood" suggests that fathers need to take more responsibility for raising their children and expresses that violence and machismo will only contribute to the destruction of families and the devastation of neighborhoods and communities.

Boyz N The Hood (1991) is a painful look at the lives of three young boys coming of age in South Central Los Angeles during the 1980s and 1990s. The film addresses the social, economic and cultural issues that challenge the youths and cultivate a culture of violence, poverty and abuse. John Singleton’s script emphasizes the role of family on the discipline of children and the structure of their future lives. It also explores the ways in which an unsupportive familial unit can be the most damaging influence on a child’s psychology.

The film’s three central boys, Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) were raised together, yet each has emerged as a different person. None is without a tendency towards violence, none is without his troubles, but the film never condemns them for their imperfections. Instead, it embraces and explores the “how” behind each boy’s evolution. It humanizes and offers substance and foundation for a lifestyle and a part of American society that is largely understood by others only through news media and crime reports. Boyz N The Hood does not tell a story where things are either/or. Rather, it depicts a both/and world.

Desi Arnez Hines II and Laurence Fishburne

In response to Tre acting up in school and challenging the Eurocentric curriculum he and his classmates are being taught, his mother Reva (Angela Bassett) sends him to live with his father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), in a seedier area of Los Angeles. There, she hopes Furious will be able to teach him how to be a man and instill in him the value of carving out a positive future for oneself, as he has done.

The other two boys, Ricky and Doughboy, are half-brothers who live in the same house with their shared mother Brenda (Tyra Ferrell), the boys hailing from different fathers. She tries to provide them with a suitable life but clearly favors Ricky over Doughboy. Ricky is a teen father, and the mother of his baby also lives in the house with them -- but he is also a promising football player with a college scholarship at the ready. He has a real, considerable possibility of becoming a football player of some renown. Therefore, he is the family’s most likely possibility for someday being able to afford a better life. Doughboy, on the other hand, is a juvenile delinquent who spent a stretch in prison and spends his days on the porch drinking 40s of malt liquor. Doughboy is arguably more intelligent and thoughtful than Ricky, but his mother openly preferring his brother has contributed to his antagonistic nature. He is a misogynist, referring to every female in the film as a “bitch” or “ho” in casual conversation as his means of retaliating against his mother’s idolization of Ricky and the respect he’s incapable of earning from her. As Revolutionary Paideia writes, “The audience witnesses how the lack of meaningful economic and social opportunities for Black families in South Central Los Angeles conjoined with an absent father forces Brenda to not only commodify her children, but also to reify them: Darrin [Doughboy] becomes her ‘waste’ and Ricky becomes her financial investment.”

Ice Cube as Doughboy

Ultimately, both of the boys seem doomed because of the lack of a father figure in their lives. Things brings up one of Boyz N The Hood’s primary tensions, which is also one of its keenest limitations: Black men are given a champion role of responsibility in determining the fate of their black sons, but in doing so, the film argues that their influence is pivotal and invaluable. Even when boys have determined and present single mothers as the head of their families, Singleton’s film argues that without a father figure (like Furious for Tre), the kids won’t make it. It accidentally accuses single mothers of being incapable of raising children like Tre on their own.

Michael Eric Dyson writes for ASU, “This complex set of interactions -- between mother and sons, between father and son, between boys who benefit from paternal wisdom or maternal ambitions, between brothers whose relationship is riven by primordial passions of envy and contempt, between environment and autonomy, between the larger social structure and the smaller but more immediate tensions of domestic life -- defines the central shape of Hood. We see a vision of black life that transcends insular preoccupations with "positive" or "negative" images and instead presents at once the limitations and virtues of black culture.”

Singleton’s presentation of single mothers may be foreshortened, but it clearly wasn’t the intent of his examination. The stronger current running through Boyz is the way it puts absentee fathers on trial as great contributors to a young person’s downfall. Whether these fathers are absent by choice or by circumstance, they inevitably contribute to the problem. The film shows us a lifestyle in which black men are regularly killing one another -- one out of every twenty-one die by homicide according to the opening titles, most at the hands of another black man. This pulls more fathers out of their children’s lives, including ones like Ricky, who likely would have grown up to be a constant and powerful presence in his child’s life, the way Furious is for Tre. Instead, he is murdered in an alley simply because someone didn’t like the way he talked.

It is fitting that Doughboy is the one who seeks revenge for his brother’s murder. Their mother immediately shouts that Ricky’s death is Doughboy’s fault, heartbreakingly accusing the wrong son of being murdered. Doughboy’s fatherless, resentful upbringing cultivated an internal violence parallel to his environment, and he hunts down his brother’s killers. The end titles tell us he is murdered a few weeks later, leaving the boys’ mother alone with Ricky’s baby and its mother, two more statistics in the black urban crime book. Tre, on the other hand, goes to college, the product of a strong paternally-guided household capable of showing restraint and acting in the best interest of his future.

Doughboy, therefore, is a version of what Tre could have been if he didn’t have the guidance of Furious. Crave writes, “While the man from USC is inside, interviewing Ricky to the sound of the helicopters overhead, Doughboy holds court on the stoop. It is apparent in this scene that his crew not only look up to him, but are also at a clear disadvantage as far as the world and its inner workings are concerned. Each one of them goes around and talks about college and why they would go, and it all seems to boil down to one thing: sex.  Doughboy, clearly disgusted, looks at Dooky, who wants to go to college 'just for the hos.' He says to him, 'Fool, you don’t go to college to be talking to no bitches. Your black ass is supposed to be learning something.' While Doughboy may seem to be the most criminal-like element of the three main protagonists, Singleton’s depiction of him is layered. He is clearly smart, certainly able, and even seems to have respect for his mother and her home (telling his friends not to swear because his mom doesn’t approve, swearing like a sailor as he reprimands them).”

Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

The conspicuous lack of fathers in the film makes Furious' character all the more worth examining. The name “Furious Styles” is evocative and adds depth to Fishburne’s character, presenting us with a man who has clearly seen a lot of stuff and is angry, violent and upset about the state of things on the inside. Unlike other characters, he takes that anger and attempts to work it into something productive. His speech about gentrification and gang violence is the capstone of his intellect and style, founded on old-school black consciousness and a deep, personal understanding of urban life. He represents a concept of manhood that is a rarity in the boys’ environment; it is embodied by the ability to fire a gun at a home intruder and the wisdom and counseling presence of someone with experience outside the hood.

Singleton’s message is that masculinity is in short supply in South Central households. Calling the film Boyz n the Hood is indicative of the lack of “real men.” He even gives us a minor character who is always found with a pacifier in his mouth, symbolic of the childish nature of violence and arrogance that defines so many youths of the area. The film’s biggest takeaway is a message of responsibility; it suggests that men are in greatest need of taking on the duties. Singleton's film argues that there has to be a better way to live, and people killing one another is only a surefire way to provoke a situation that is already a problem. Taking away more men -- more fathers -- at alarming rates through violence compels destruction of the community.