Hollywood trailblazer John Singleton died earlier this week at the age of 51. The director is best known for his 1991 film "Boyz n' the Hood," for which he became the first African American and youngest person to receive an Oscar nomination for best director. Critics credit Singleton as one of the first filmmakers to document the humanity and complexity of life in South Central Los Angeles. Singleton died just one month after the murder of Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle, another artist whose work was strongly rooted in South LA. Hussle's music commented on gang violence, murder and the power of telling one’s own story. Popular culture experts Mark Anthony Neal and Natalie Bullock Brown remember the artistic legacies of Singleton and Hussle in the latest installment of #BackChannel, The State of Things' recurring series connecting culture and context.
They also review a new book about the friendship and falling out between writers Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes and share their thoughts on the PBS documentary “BOSS: The Black Experience In Business.” And critics are calling Beyoncé’s album and Netflix movie “Homecoming” both an incredible artistic feat and another example of how tightly she controls her image. Bullock Brown and Neal will share their thoughts and review “Cuz I Love You,” the new album from Lizzo, a flautist, rapper and singer who is quickly becoming a popular culture sensation. They also comment on Tiger Woods’ complicated legacy and athletic comeback. Natalie Bullock Brown is a filmmaker and teaching assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and Mark Anthony Neal is the James B. Duke professor and chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham.
Natalie Bullock Brown on the legacy of John Singleton:
John Singleton was a very early inspiration for me as a young, black filmmaker. We are only one year apart ... I was graduating from college when "Boys n' the Hood" came out, and I was going straight to film school, and I just was astonished at the fact that this young person who had just basically done the same thing that I did, caught the attention of Hollywood with a script that he wrote in school ... He joined Spike Lee in that way of letting me know as a young black person that film is accessible.
Mark Anthony Neal on the legacy of Nipsey Hussle:
He was an underground guy. He made his reputation basically on a mixtape he did in 2013 that he sold for $100 ... He had just released his first official major label release which earned him a Grammy award. What folks loved about Nipsey was the fact that he was someone not famous famous ... but someone who clearly has some name recognition and has the ability to leave the hood, if you will, but chose to maintain the roots that he had built in his community — starting businesses, creating partnerships, being visible in the hood. And it's a challenge. It's a thing your heart says that you should do, but if you're talking about long term sustainability it's also going to make you a target.
Watch the trailer for "BOSS: The Black Experience In Business":
Natalie Bullock Brown on Beyoncé's "Homecoming":
Beyoncé is someone who is so complicated and nuanced ... I think "Homecoming" is a reflection of the fact that she has these amazing instincts and vision. She had the resources to bring that vision to life, but the direction that I see her having gone in increasingly over the past several years, is she is unapologetically determined to lift up these different aspects of black culture in the mainstream culture ... There are layers to "Homecoming," because there's all of her music ... but the marching band treatment then adds another layer. And there are these little musical nuggets ... It's brilliant, really.
Watch the trailer for trailer for Beyoncé's "Homecoming":