NEW YORK (AP) — Director John Singleton, who made one of Hollywood's most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated "Boyz N the Hood" and continued in following decades to probe the lives of black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond, has died. He was 51.
Singleton's family said Monday that he died in Los Angeles, surrounded by family and friends, after being taken off life support. The director suffered a major stroke this month.
Singleton was in his early 20s, just out of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, when he wrote, directed and produced "Boyz N the Hood." Based on Singleton's upbringing and shot in his old neighborhood, the low-budget production starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube and centered on three friends in South Central Los Angeles, where college aspirations competed with the pressures of gang life.
"Boyz N the Hood" was a critical and commercial hit, given a 20-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and praised as a groundbreaking extension of rap to the big screen, a realistic and compassionate take on race, class, peer pressure and family. Singleton would later call it a "rap album on film."
For many, the 1991 release captured the explosive mood in Los Angeles in the months after the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. "Boyz N the Hood" also came out at a time when, thanks to the efforts to Spike Lee and others, black films were starting to get made in Hollywood after a long absence.
Singleton became the first black director to receive an Academy Award nomination, an honor he would say was compensation for the academy's snubbing Lee and "Do the Right Thing" two years earlier, and was nominated for best screenplay. ("Thelma & Louise" won instead.) At 24, he was also the youngest director nominee in Oscar history.
"I think I was living this film before I ever thought about making it," Singleton told Vice News in 2016. "As I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, and cinema became an option, it was just natural that this was probably going to be my first film. In fact, when I applied to USC film school they had a thing that asked you to write three ideas for films. And one of them was called 'Summer of '84,' which was about growing up in South Central LA."
In 2002, "Boyz N the Hood" was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which called it "an innovative look at life and the tough choices present for kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles."
Singleton's death Monday followed a turbulent week during which his family members made opposing court filings regarding his health. Singleton had been in intensive care in a Los Angeles hospital since he had a stroke on April 17. A court filing last week by his mother, Shelia Ward, requested she be appointed Singleton's temporary conservator to make medical and financial decisions while he was incapacitated.
Ward's filing said that Singleton was in a coma. But on Friday, Singleton's daughter Cleopatra Singleton, 19, filed a declaration disputing that account. She maintained that her father was not in a coma and that doctors did not "have a concrete diagnosis." She opposed her grandmother becoming conservator, or guardian.
Singleton's passing prompted widespread praise for a filmmaker who, as his "Shaft" star Samuel L. Jackson said, "blazed the trail for many young filmmakers," while "always remaining true to who he was and where he came from."
Ava DuVernay called him "a giant among us." Spike Lee said, "We'll miss you but your films will live on." Jordan Peele, the Oscar-winning "Get Out" and "Us" filmmaker, called him "a brave artist and a true inspiration."