When I first met John Singleton, I was a newly promoted creative executive at Columbia Pictures under Dawn Steel and Amy Pascal. I was trying to replace myself in the story department with a reader of color.
I’d heard about this kid who was coming out of USC who wanted a job as a reader. When he came in for a meeting, John just wanted to talk about “Boyz N the Hood.” He was not interested in the reader job. He just wanted to get into a studio to talk about his script and the movie that he was going to direct. He was the most confident neophyte I’d ever seen.
Ten minutes in, I literally forgot all about that reader job. All I wanted to do was get a hold of that script. It took me a while to get it. John already had an agent at CAA. I begged and begged and kept calling.
Finally, I got the script. I read it in my office and said to myself, “That’s why I’m here — to get this movie made.” Working with John on “Boyz N the Hood” set the tone for my whole career. He had the vision and he executed it. It was a painstaking process. I learned on that movie how to protect an artist’s vision. He changed history. He changed the trajectory of film in America with that movie.
I made five movies with John, and each one of them was an adventure. We were close. When I think about John, I think about his passion, his enthusiasm, his smile. He was so enthusiastic about life and about movies and the process. I still have all the audition tapes from “Boyz N the Hood.” It’s just crazy the amount of talent he was able to identify at his young age.
John’s gift as an artist was being able to tell stories that entertained and also informed. He was so authentic. His heart was so open. On “Boyz,” he wanted to bring a sense of heart and soul to these boys and to show a neighborhood battling an epidemic of drugs and drive-by shootings. He was willing to tell the truth. He loved hip-hop, and he had quite an ear for musical artists like Tupac and Ice Cube. He found them to be kindred spirits and truth tellers.
With “Boyz” being such a hit and such a landmark film, it would have been challenging for anyone to overcome such an amazing debut at the age of 23. But John didn’t really hang on to all of that. He wanted to grow as an artist and discover new talent, like Taraji P. Henson and Tyrese. His heroes were Coppola and Spielberg and Spike Lee. He was always excited to learn new things and work with new people. He was a student of film. He never stood on his laurels.
John was always so happy with other people’s success. That’s why he wrote the check to get [Craig Brewer’s] “Hustle & Flow” made. He cared so much about upcoming filmmakers. I never saw him depressed or down. He was always up — always looking forward. He had lately been very passionate about working on a movie about [lynching victim] Emmett Till.
John loved being in production, and he was really excited a few years ago when he started doing television. I had an especially poignant text from him late one night from the set of [FX’s] “Snowfall.” He was directing my son [actor Wade Allain-Marcus] and he sent me a picture of the two of them grinning. That was a full-circle moment for both of us. John loved his kids and was so proud of them and where they were going.
It was always fun being with John. He was playful, just like a kid. He had a “hee-hee-hee” laugh. He loved to sail. I remember him being out on his boat, climbing up the sails to unfurl them in the wind and heading into the future. That’s how I will remember him.
Producer Stephanie Allain, head of Homegrown Pictures, worked with John Singleton on five movies: “Boyz N the Hood” (1991), “Poetic Justice” (1993), “Higher Learning” (1995), “Hustle & Flow” (2005) and “Black Snake Moan” (2006). Singleton died April 29, after suffering a stroke 12 days earlier.