Caution: This blog article discusses plot points from start to finish of the film Boyz N the Hood. It is expected that you have at least some familiarity with the film, and that you do not read this until you have seen it.
“What you did is no different from what mothers have been doing from the beginning of time,” Reva Styles, portrayed by actress Angela Bassett, tells Furious Styles, played by Lawrence Fishburne. “It’s just too bad more brothers won’t do the same. But don’t think you’re special.”
In the grand scheme of the story and plot to Boyz N the Hood, this scene between the parents of Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., seems insignificant. It has no immediate bearing on the following events that conclude the film. However, it is key to one of the film’s central themes, and that is the importance of fatherhood.
The film’s premise begins with Tre Styles, a young boy in elementary school that is rather bright, but has issues controlling his temper. After getting another suspension, his mother arranges for the boy to live with his father, to be a proper role model for him, while she finishes her graduate school and work. After Tre moves in with his father Furious, we are introduced to his neighborhood friends Doughboy and Rick. Doughboy and Rick each share the same mother, but they do not share a father. Their mother is raising them alone, and her favoritism towards the two separate fathers influences her favoritism towards the young men. It is clear very early on that Doughboy is destined for a rough life, as his mother shows him little affection. We also see that Doughboy himself is not a bad kid, and despite having some resentment towards his brother, is also willing to fight for him.
While the film places Furious at the metaphorical podium to lecture the characters and audience in turn about the nature of violence and crime in the black community, how the higher class positions all the necessary tools for the lower class’ self-destruction in convenient locations, it is only a part of the film’s overall message.
It’s important to note that, right from the film’s start, it is focusing on the male experience in this scenario. Women are certainly involved, but it is clear that black males are the ones dying most, and they are dying at the hands of other black men. Using the characters of Doughboy and Rick, the film sets out to create a contrast between the two boys lacking in a proper father figure against Tre’s decisions influenced by the wisdom and guidance of Furious.
First, let us examine Doughboy, as I believe Tre actually has more in common with him than with Rick. Like Tre, Doughboy is actually quite intelligent while also sporting a potentially foul temper and sense of pride. Tre, however, had parents that wanted him to control his temper and also encouraged him to read and learn. Both saw the value of wisdom and encouraged it within their son. Yet Reva never would have taken Tre on a fishing trip to discuss what leadership is, and if they discussed sex, the nature of the conversation would have been very different. It likely would have very much focused on the female experience and concerns rather than the man’s.
Doughboy, on the other hand, does not have a father present to raise and influence him. He hears nothing but negativity about his father and is even told that he is “just like him”. While Doughboy expresses a similar temper and sense of pride as young Tre, Doughboy has no parent to help him focus and control that hair-triggered anger. Doughboy’s environment is telling him that he is nothing before he even has the ability to try and be something. It’s the same pressure that society is essentially telling the black community by putting liquor and gun stores on every corner, as discussed by Furious. “You’re nothing but a criminal,” they say, and so the community accepts it. So Doughboy comes to accept that he’s nothing but a thug after his mother has told him it is so, despite having read books and shown a degree of introspection that only Tre and Furious demonstrate throughout the entire film.
In addition, he has the most disrespectful attitude towards women in the entire film. He calls all of them ho’s and bitches. This is likely an attitude brought upon by deep resentment towards his mother, who herself had two separate sons from two separate fathers and treated him unfairly. While Tre has struggles with his own girlfriend, primarily in the topic of whether they will have sex or not, Tre is never treating her like a “ho” or “bitch”. He is immature and bursting with hormones, but she, too, is immature and fueled by dogmatic ideals. It is a conflict that is not uncommon in relationships, and the two are trying to figure out how to compromise their desires within the relationship.
Ricky, on the other hand, is the golden child to he and Doughboy’s mother. He is the one promised to be destined for greatness. His dream is to be in the NFL, and throughout the film she’s doing whatever she can to make ensure his future. Superficially, Ricky is on the straight and narrow alongside Tre. The two boys are going to school, they each are in a relationship, and each of them is focused on life after high school. However, Ricky doesn’t have a real plan. He’s counting on making it to the NFL. While he’s certainly working hard for it, and it is most definitely his passion, the prospect of failure, the need for a back-up plan, never really occurs to him until he’s speaking with a representative from a College.
Most importantly, Ricky himself is a father. Our first introduction to him as a young adult is as a father, one that is clueless towards his child’s crying and ignores the pleas of his girlfriend to change the diaper. It is clear that the reality of his situation hasn’t sunk in yet, that he is not prepared for that responsibility. As the film continues, Ricky is never truly seen taking care of the child. It’s all his girlfriend. Ricky is “there”, supposedly “being a father”, but his actions do not reflect this. At the same time, no one calls Ricky out on it. No one is forcing Ricky to stay home with his son, or to get a job so he can take care of the kid. Instead, everyone is allowing him to leave and live his dream of being an NFL player. Even later, towards the film’s end, he is considering the army so that he can “do something with his life”.
There’s an interesting comparison here to be made between Ricky and Furious. Earlier in the film Furious tells Tre that he had joined the army to fight in the Vietnam War and be an excellent role model for his son. His decision was influenced by his new responsibility as a father, and was Furious’ own journey of discovery into being a man. Ricky, however, is making no such decision for his son. The decision is purely based on a promise that he is destined for greatness, and he is no doubt feeling the pressure of his dream of the NFL beginning to slip away.
So Ricky himself plans to become an absentee father, unable to devote the proper time and care into his son’s well-being. This is partially due to Ricky’s own immaturity, and partially due to his mother’s behavior towards him. Ricky has never had any responsibility. She frequently doted on him, and promised him all of his dreams. She lectured him about having the child and making sure his girlfriend was on the pill, but otherwise he was never told to start bringing in money to help provide support. Essentially, Ricky and Doughboy both do nothing but sit around the house, but only one of them is lectured for it.
Tre, on the other hand, is very aware of consequences and responsibility. He confides in Ricky that he’s still a virgin because, any time he’d get close to having sex, he’d “get scared”. Tre is afraid of having a child, one of which is no doubt a result of Furious’ advice. We witness his father discussing sex and fatherhood on a fishing trip when Tre is young, and the message has clearly been repeated. Tre clearly wants sex as a teenager, but he also knows the risks well enough not to be brash.
The topic of AIDs and STD’s also comes up, once with Doughboy and his crew while playing Domino’s, and once with Furious and Tre. In the latter scene, Furious emphasizes the importance of using a rubber, even if the woman is on birth control. “You don’t want your dick falling off,” Furious yells, frustrated.
Perhaps what is hardest to see is how the lack of a father resulted in these two young men losing their lives. It is important to note that the film opens up with a message informing the audience that one in every twenty-one young black men will be murdered, most likely by the hands of another young black man. The actions of Ricky and Doughboy, influenced by their absent father, perpetuate the cycle further. They become part of the statistic.
It is very important to note that Ricky is the master of his own demise in this film. Yes, he largely kept his nose clean. He wasn’t a “street thug” or “gangsta”. He was, as stated earlier, the golden child that was promised a future. It was Ricky’s own decisions that led to his untimely fate, however.
Ricky’s fate was sealed when he and Tre went to “the club” to meet up with Doughboy, a location they only went to because Ricky was lamenting Doughboy’s absence during Furious’ speech on gentrification and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the low income neighborhood. The irony is, based on the concluding conversation between Tre and Doughboy, he is already aware of at least the basics of what Furious was speaking. Again, Doughboy is actually a rather intelligent young man, and we are reminded of this during his discussions about God. He is merely caught in the slipstream of the violent life.
When the antagonizing crew walks by, however, sporting Chicago sports gear rather than L.A., and knocks into Ricky, it is Ricky who bursts out angrily. Once again, Doughboy is the one that stands up in defense of his brother. Unlike when they were kids, however, Ricky is not afraid to shoot his mouth off. In fact, that Ricky got his football back as a child may have only fueled his expectation that things will always turn out okay for him. In truth, Ricky is the one that shoots his mouth off without understanding the reality of the situation. Doughboy is merely there as back-up and protection for his older brother.
If it weren’t for Ricky shooting his mouth off (or, if you want to go back further, Ricky wanting to meet with Doughboy in the first place), then Ricky would never have been “hunted down” by the Chicago crew. Even at the end, as he and Tre are getting chased down, the reality of his situation never truly sinks into Ricky. After running away from the Chicago car the first time, he decides to split up, and in so doing stops paying attention to his surroundings. He believes himself to be in the clear. He does not realize that, for this crew, it’s personal.
So Ricky is killed. A doting mother and community that has promised him the world has also taught that Ricky does not need to be concerned for his future or even his own safety. He lacks responsibility, and thus he lacks proper wisdom. Tre knew that they shouldn’t split up, and even afterward Tre was keeping vigilant of his surroundings. He had a father to guide him, to help him understand what it meant to be a leader, the reality of the world they lived in, and how to have the back of the man beside you. Tre’s mistake was allowing Ricky to do as he pleased, which was to split up. At the same time, it may have been the decision that saved Tre’s own life as well.
Oddly enough, I find Doughboy to be the real tragedy of the story. He’s smart enough to know that the Chicago crew are after Ricky as they speed on down the neighborhood. He wants to save his brother. Even after bringing his brother’s body back home, he tries to keep Ricky’s son from seeing his father’s dead body. Yet both women of the house, Ricky’s girlfriend and the mother, blame Doughboy for Ricky’s demise. Despite the fact that it was Ricky’s actions that brought about his own dead, Doughboy still takes the blame.
His final dialogue with Tre is a prophecy of his own end. Doughboy hunted down the antagonizing crew and killed them. In turn, he predicted someone would try to come along and do the same to him. The film informs as, at the very close, that the very same happened two weeks later.
While the film is very much about the continuing cycle of violence within the black community, there’s also a very large theme of fatherhood and how that plays into the cycle. Concepts of responsibility, of education, and seeing through what society is telling you. The scene where Furious and Reva are discussing Tre’s future has no bearing on the events of Ricky’s death, or even of Tre’s choices and almost mistake. However, the implication that Furious did what “mothers have been doing since the beginning of time” is completely missing the importance of Furious’ role and wisdom in Tre’s life, and the demise of Ricky in particular challenges the notion.
Reva comments on having purchases shoes for Tre, and Furious bites back that she shouldn’t be buying things for him. That her time of “being mommy” is done, that Tre is a man capable of making his own decisions. Reva disagrees, but Ricky had nothing but a woman that insisted on “being mommy”. It got him killed, and now there’s another fatherless young black child in a poor neighborhood of L.A. Ricky’s son will now grow up without a father figure to teach him what Furious taught Tre.
It may not be spelled out quite so obviously, but I do believe this is one of the core messages of Boyz N The Hood.