Filmmaker John Singleton Passes Away at 51

A trailblazing pioneer. A fearless leader. A master storyteller. Filmmaker John Singleton passed away Monday in Los Angeles from complications after suffering a stroke on April 17. Singleton was taken off of life support after being unresponsive to medical treatment for the stroke he suffered 13 days earlier. His family made the difficult decision to remove him from life support after careful consultation with his doctors at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. He was just 51.

“We want to thank the amazing doctors at Cedars-Sinai Hospital for their expert care and kindness and we again want to thank all of John’s fans, friends and colleagues for all of the love and support they showed him during this difficult time,” the family offered in a statement.

A Brave Pioneer

Singleton, a groundbreaking filmmaker since the age of 23, was an integral figure in film and television. Films like Boyz n the Hood (1991), Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Baby Boy (2001), and Husle & Flow (2005), all told the African American story from the rawest and most authentic lense than, both, the film industry and public had ever seen. Through film, John Singleton told honest stories of a collective of people that felt mostly ignored by Hollywood, highlighting their trials and triumphs in a way that had never been attempted before.

Aside from his work as a director, John Singleton is best known for launching the careers of many acclaimed African American entertainers. He even won applause for directing the elaborate music video for Michael Jackson’s legendary hit single “Remember the Time.” Since his introduction into the filmmaking business, Singleton has had an impressive career, producing a total of 21 films as a director. His most hailed project is arguably the 1991 cult classic Boyz n the Hood coming-of-age film, which featured Hollywood heavyweights like Academy Award winners Regina King and Cuba Gooding Jr., as well as Lawrence Fishbourne, Angela Bassett, Ice Cube, Nia Long, and Morris Chestnut. It was Boyz n the Hood that launched nearly 30-year careers for many of the film’s stars, including Singleton himself. The year of the movie’s release, he made history as the first black director to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. He was also the youngest director to ever be nominated for the award and also received a Best Screenplay nomination for the film. Boyz n the Hood went on to become a mainstream hit, earning an impressive $57 million at the box office, which in the ’90s seemed impossible to do with an entirely black main cast.

His Legacy

John Singleton, born in 1968, grew up in the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Directly after graduating from Blair High School, he went to Pasadena City College and then to study filmmaking at the University of Southern California in the Film Writing program.  Singleton got the inspiration to make the Boyz n the Hood movie from his time at the University.  What made the film so monumental was the fact that it was released shortly after the infamous Rodney King police brutality incident that occurred in Los Angeles in 1991, at a time when African Americans felt marginalized and abused by the powers that be. The film and the riot were both rooted in the need to be acknowledged, heard and understood.

After Boyz n the Hood, Singleton went on to produce many films that were not typical box office hits, but have gone on to become cult classics. Poetic Justice, Baby Boy, Higher Learning, Shaft, Rosewood, Four Brothers, and 2 Fast 2 Furious, were not big in theaters, but have remained fan favorites since their release. In a 2017 interview, Singleton stated, “Sidney Poitier told me something very important when I was getting started,” Singleton remembered. “He said, ‘Just because a film doesn’t do a lot of box office or get a lot of awards when it first comes out doesn’t make that film less worthy of being considered a classic.’ At my age now, I’m more pragmatic about that.”

He’ll Always Be Remembered

Once the news of his death broke, many film stars including entertainers that he helped along the way took to social media to send their most heartfelt condolences for his family. 

Singleton is survived by his mother, Sheila Ward, his father, Danny Singleton, and his children Justice, Maasai, Hadar, Cleopatra, Selenesol, Isis, and Seven. Judging by the widespread Hollywood and public outcry over his passing, he will be dearly missed by everyone that he’s shepherded throughout the years, as well as the film industry as a whole. 


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