|John Singleton at the Premiere of “Selma” (2014)|
As part of the Conscious Movie-of-the-Month Club hosted by Conscious Good Creators Network, we are viewing the film Selma (2014) as our monthly selection. I was struck by the news of African American filmmaker John Singleton (1968–2019) passing away just a few days before we started. I noticed some synchronicities or resonances between our choice of film and the life, work and passing of Singleton. Selma is the work of African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay who is part of a whole new movement and consciousness within African American cinema that most likely would not exist without Singleton’s groundbreaking work.
The history of African American cinema has been profoundly affected by the history of African Americans and their struggle against great individual, cultural, social and systemic injustices and challenges. The evolutionary journey of African American media artists and their works is like a creative mirror on our collective journey as a country. Because of this great injustice gap, the evolution of African American cinema is the story of many creative, cultural and social groundbreakers fighting against a system that was and still is in many ways rigged against people of color.
Every generation has had courageous individuals who sought to break some of these barriers and open the doors to those generations to come. John Singleton was one of the brave creative souls who raised and deepened the cinematic consciousness of African American cinema by unpacking the overt and covert effects of living within the shadows of racism. His breakout film Boyz n the Hood (1991), made when he was just 23, depicted the everyday lives and realities of African Americans, going deeply personal to tap into the universal.
Since his passing many African American film scholars, critics, historians and commentators have written about Singleton’s various contributions to African American cinema and American cinema in general, including: What Hollywood Owes to John Singleton, his Influence on African American Cinema, and how he Changed Black Culture on Film Forever.
My colleague Jonathan Steigman and I created a video podcast series called New Black Cinema for White People in which we take a deep dive into the new generation of masterful young filmmakers standing on the shoulders of John Singleton and other trailblazing African American media artists. One of the groundbreaking elements of the works by this new generation is their use of both subtle and extremely overt complex communication to pierce the veil of structural white supremacy. From broad satire to quiet drama, from big budget pop culture films to low budget independent works, these filmmakers are working at the top of their game and creating cinematic works designed to raise the consciousness of American culture and society to the hidden dimensions of racism and structural white supremacy. By exploring the personal and collective costs of the hidden dimensions of racism, these creators seek a way to transcend and heal them with love and compassion for all sides.
Ava DuVernay is one of this movement’s leaders, helping and mentoring others the way Singleton did. DuVernay and this group of the new wave in African American cinema are operating at an integral or near-integral structure of consciousness, integrating all the gifts from the previous generations of activists and artists. One of these gifts is the integration of Singleton’s collective through the personal stories approach with a higher, deeper and more expansive “big picture” perspective producing more complex and multi-layered storytelling.
In Selma, DuVernay unpacks the personal, interpersonal, cultural and social dimensions of Martin Luther King’s racial and social justice consciousness raising effort during the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches in 1965. So we have a film about the consciousness raising efforts of Dr. King and others on the individual and collective front lines, made by a filmmaker who herself seeks to raise consciousness even further around these issues through her works. In this, DuVernay and her cohort in this new generation are standing on the shoulders of those who came before them, including Singleton, and pushing the dialogue ever forward.
And so, this month, we take this moment to mourn and honor the passing of one of these groundbreakers as we explore one of the cinematic works that has sprung from the creative garden he helped seed.
- What Hollywood Owes to John Singleton https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/04/john-singleton-appreciation-boyz-n-the-hood
- John Singleton’s Influence on African American Cinema https://www.tvovermind.com/john-singletons-influence-on-african-american-cinema/
- John Singleton Changed Black Culture on Film Forever https://www.laweekly.com/arts/john-singleton-changed-black-culture-on-film-forever-10150468
- New Black Cinema for White People (Podcast Series) https://vimeo.com/album/5379791
*Special thanks to Jonathan Steigman for his editorial assistance in creating this article and for his contributions to the research into this new movement in African American Cinema.