Film director and writer known for Boyz N the Hood

Born: January 6, 1968;

Died: April 29, 2019

JOHN Singleton, who has died aged 51, drew on personal experience growing up in a violent part of Los Angeles for a student assignment. It took him just three and a half weeks to write the script of Boyz N the Hood, but Columbia Pictures were so keen to turn it into a feature film that they gave him $6million and bowed to his demand to direct it himself.

He later admitted he learned how to direct as he was going along. The film was released in 1991, at a time when South LA was in the grip of gang violence and civil unrest. A commercial and critical success, it grossed almost $60million on its initial North American cinema release, found an international audience and secured Singleton Oscar nominations for both directing and script. He was the first African-American to be nominated for best director and at the age of 24 he was the youngest best director nominee ever.

He went on to write, direct and/or produce more than 20 films and television series, including the 2000 remake of Shaft with Samuel L Jackson, and the 2003 instalment in the Fast and the Furious series 2 Fast 2 Furious. He was also outspoken on racial inequality and the inequities of the American film industry.

John Daniel Singleton was born in Los Angeles in 1968. He grew up in South LA, where he was exposed to drugs and gang violence. His parents were not living together and his childhood was split between parents and houses. It was not as impoverished as some. His father was a financial planner and mortgage broker and his mother was a saleswoman with a pharmaceutical company.

Singleton reckoned he was “saved” from being drawn into the gangs simply because he spent so much time at the cinema from the age of seven onwards when his mother took him to see the school drama film Cooley High. He realised the power of cinema when he saw her crying at the death of one of the characters. He decided there and then that he wanted to make films too.

A bright child, he went to an International Baccalaureate school in Pasadena and he began to appreciate the stark contrast between life in South LA and other parts of California. "My life changed when I went to school in the Valley, when I was in eighth grade," he said.

"It was the first time I went on the 405 Freeway. They were rich in Encino-Tarzana. You see a different life. Everyone was changed by the crack problem in my neighbourhood. I remember ice cream trucks and you realise the ice cream truck isn’t selling ice cream, they’re selling crack."

Desperate to learn everything he could about films and film-making, he was a familiar face at the University of Southern California’s film school even before he enrolled as a student. He would sit in on classes and engage lecturers in informal discussions about favourite films.

Singleton already had the basic idea for Boyz N the Hood. At that point it was called Summer of ’84. “I was living this film before I ever thought about making it,” he said. “There are things that happened to me and my family, like the guy breaking in and my father getting the drop on him, and the black policeman, saying ‘You should have got him – that would have been one less nigger.’ Then there's other events in the picture that happened, but not necessarily to me.”

Singleton was only 22 when he began shooting Boyz N the Hood on location in the ganglands of South Central LA. It effectively launched not only Singleton’s film career, but also that of Cuba Gooding Jr, in a role based on Singleton, and Ice Cube, as his friend who gets fatally involved with the gangs. Laurence Fishburne played the father who keeps Gooding’s character grounded.

When the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the influential American critic Roger Ebert wrote: “I realised I had not simply seen a brilliant directorial debut, but an American film of enormous importance.”

Several subsequent films returned to the same themes and setting without having quite the same impact. Singleton reached a wider audience again with Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious and the thrillers Four Brothers (2005), with Mark Wahlberg, and Abduction (2011).

In 2007 Singleton was involved in a road accident, in which he was the driver and a pedestrian died. It was concluded that he was not at fault and there were no charges.

Like many other Hollywood actors and directors, Singleton has recently been accused of sexual impropriety, in his case by a journalist who interviewed him. She said he made unwanted sexual advances and put his arm round her waist when she took a selfie with him.

He had a history of hypertension and suffered a stroke a few weeks ago. His mother said he was in a coma and asked for powers of attorney, though the action and medical assessment were disputed by other family members.

He was married and divorced twice and had children from several other relationships as well. In 1999 he pleaded no contest after being charged with assaulting the mother of one of his children and was ordered to make a film about domestic violence.

He is survived by his parents and his children.