February 12th, 2013 would prove to be not just an ordinary night. First and foremost, thank you Urbanology Magazine for holding the contest to allow me to win tickets to this event on Twitter, or I never would have heard about this ahead of time (I probably would have ended up going by someone telling me). John Singleton (director of the infamous Boyz N Tha Hood, Poetic Justice, Four Brothers, and Baby Boy – just to name a few) was in town for a discussion and Q&A to an audience at the lavish TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s crazy that 6 years ago (almost exactly), it was just starting construction when I was doing a co-op down the street – crazy. It’s not one of those things that you just brush aside, because how often do you get to be in the presence of an Academy Nominated Director of classic movies that I grew up watching? Not very often at all – it’s almost rare.
TD Canada Trust (my bank of over 10 years) was a sponsor for this Black History Month event, and I thank them also for having this; but the man of the hour was more important at the moment. 3rd row seats are good to have at an event like this, and it wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t bring along a great friend from high school to share the experience. John was definitely shorter than myself and others would have expected, but he had a smooth aura about him and he just seemed really cool, although he was pretty soft-spoken.
The essence of the night can’t be put into a series of words that I’ve compiled together, but as he went into the discussion about how Boyz In The Hood was a script he submitted for his university assignment, having directing it at 22 years old, and being that young in charge of so many people like himself, it really put in perspective of how film was back then, and even filming in his hometown of Southern Los Angeles. They way he speaks is as if one of my boys from Scarborough (or if you ever lived on a ‘block’) would converse with you – profanity and all. He’s very charismatic and humourous. His sense of humour was uncanny, and he made you feel comfortable while listening to him right off the bat. He continued breaking down other movies as we watched scenes from Poetic Justice, Baby Boy & Four Brothers. He talked about his initial inspiration to do film at 9 years old having lived beside a drive-in theatre and watching horror flicks outside of his window, and he also talked about how live experiences drove him to want to make the type of movies that he did.
Aside from the professional life that he created for himself at such a young age, he had the chance to meet famous people. Meeting Janet Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas all at the same time was one thing to marvel at, but it wasn’t the most intriguing story; when he was telling his stories of his interactions and relationships with Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, and Richard Pryor – that had me in awe. I mean, those 3 are arguably a handful of people who changed the face of Black Entertainment whether it was music or comedy; legends that he was able to just be with to ‘hang out’. Typing it out right now, it seems crazy that he was able to do that with those particular three (he obviously knew a lot of famous people). His relationship with Spike Lee was another cool thing that he kept talking about, because Spike was the guy who opened the door for other Black filmmakers to create and tell their own story – and really it was because of Spike Lee that John wanted to make Boyz an even ‘blacker’ movie that really told a gripping tale of life ‘in tha hood’.
When you’re a Black filmmaker, it’s something that people weren’t really accustomed to, and the fact that he was young as well; there were other obstacles that came, especially from a leadership standpoint. He expressed those challenges and just said that he had to be assertive, swift with his tongue, and have the ability to command a crew and not tolerate any shit from anyone. It was eye-opening, because there were life lessons to be learned. Following your passion and staying true to who you are (which I’ve adamantly talked about in my Vents series) is something that he spoke on, and it’s true. If he didn’t have the vision to want to make the movies he wanted to, he wouldn’t have been speaking to us. It’s just a reiteration of sticking to your goals and continuing to chase your dreams by any means. The night was full of energy, positivity, warmth and hilarity as John Singleton was the conductor of the metaphorical symphony in action. It was great to hear those words from him, and be told stories that many would pay a lot more to hear and to be in his presence for a little over an hour and a half. Even if I didn’t win the tickets, they were $20. TWENTY DOLLARS for what could be a life changing discussion. I’d say it was worth it.
Continue to dream big, and you’ll surely be rewarded (my words, not his). Witnessing John in the flesh is an example of someone who dreamed and went far. You never know – one day it could be me being interviewed. That’s how I want to look at it now, from that perspective. If you were able to attend this, great. If not, then I’m sorry you missed out on a fantastic experience. But, for now,
That’s My Word & It STiXX