Boyz N the Hood: Problematic Representation of Black LA in Movies

Film combines the medium of art and technology which is then used to share imagery and sounds to a world wide audience. With these advantages, an urban space in Los Angeles, California can be shown to the world letting the viewers vicariously experience a space that can be hundreds of miles away making it one of the little ways to obtain information about the land and its occupants. The films can be seen as responsible for producing countless ideas and opinions that come from the audience the film has reached. If the film’s content was contorted or manipulated in a way to evoke a certain opinion about what was shown, it takes away the freedom and power of the viewer to make their own opinions about the matter especially if the film is the only wide exposure of information. The Academy Award Nominee movie Boyz N the Hood is a helpful example that shows the duality of the representation that film gave for the underrepresented black population in southern Los Angeles. Showing light to the area of South Central, where the majority of the population are black, was a huge step in giving a voice to the minority community but the way it was shown to the world may hurt the community as well. The problematic representation created disadvantages such as cementing and strengthening negative racial stereotypes and defined the wrong way to treat the population. Comparing the poor black population and the rich black population of South Central, the poor black communities are represented more in film which creates the conception that to be black means to be poor in most cases.

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The title of the film makes it easy to guess what it will be consisting of so that even without watching Boyz N the Hood, the public may already assume that it is about males living in a ghetto neighborhood where poor minorities including black and hispanic people reside in. The plot consists of the growth of three black teenagers who grow up surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence. The viewer start by knowing the three as innocent children in the Crenshaw district and again as young adults struggling with their dangerous environment. The friend Ricky is killed by a gang member despite being the football player of the group who wanted to do something with his life. Doughboy who has been the one to grow up into gang violence and has been imprisoned promises to get revenge and kills the shooter while Tre backs out when his father coaxes him to not join the endless cycle of violence. This movie is successful in showing the different perspectives of young black men growing up around violence and resorting to selling drugs to end their impoverishment. Although there is truth in this movie and bringsattention about the black experience in South Central, it still manages to be disadvantageous to the people of the region because it creates assumptions about the city. There is little to none black representation in film and when there is, the movie is usually about the ghetto neighborhoods where the civilians are impoverished and struggling. This creates the idea that black people are dangerous and live in dangerous cities where there is a plethora of crime and death. It is hard to list movies about black people in black neighborhoods that are successful because the only representation they get is from ‘hood movies’ where the hood experience is projected.

The few black movies widely known do show light to the struggles a black community has but it seems to be the only representation the area gets. The existing representation could also have been exaggerated and construed in an untruthful way. From watching or even hearing about black hood movies including Boyz N the Hood, the public are set to believe that black neighborhoods are dangerous. These stereotypes affect the way people see black people and sets up how one is to treat black people.

When the black population is considered dangerous, society and the law react differently to the black bodies, basing their judgements on what they see in film. Black people are seen through the filter of stereotypes film has created about them which is dehumanizing because it starts to become impossible to get to know the minority without being blinded by the preset assumptions one has about them.

Film representation of minorities is important but it becomes dangerous when there is a limited amount of representation and of that select few films, there is content that will not only uphold negative views of the black population but create racist stereotypes as well. Film becomes the tool of the discrimination when it influences minds that black communities are bad and dangerous. The fortified assumptions make it harder for black people to obtain justice, something that they and other minorities have been deprived of. The existing problems that have affected the black community involve mass incarceration, and discrimination that leads to the destruction of the black communities. Problematic representation makes it harder to fight the the current inequalities being faced because now the black population is viewed in a certain way where they are deemed as ‘other’ and ‘dangerous.’

Mass incarceration attacks the black male by imprisoning him therefore taking him off others off the streets which does help the los angeles image so that with less criminals there is more incentive to move in and feel safe. The crimes they are being arrested for are small but it is easy to unfairly treat a black man while living in a society that has constantly criminalized the black body and re establishes that mindset with movies that portray black people as dangerous.

Freedom Now!​ by Christina Heatherton reflects on the mass incarceration of the African American community in Los Angeles that abused the rights of the oppressed community in order to extract benefits from the imprisonment of that population. The broken windows theory is a concept strategy of why the police arrest and charge the minority groups of Los Angeles on small offenses and are motivated to work on these arrests more in order to reach a quota.

Problematic representation that further dehumanizes and criminalizes black bodies make it harder for the minority to escape the discriminatory practice of mass incarceration. By targeting an easily found suspect that caused minor offenses in a population that increasingly began to criminalize the poor, the city gained a new group of people to exploit in order to imprison the population that is treated like a stain in the community. The introduction of the book notes how these small arrests were celebrated due to the belief that focusing on small offenses would decrease the likelihood of more serious crimes that would seem to be raised if the racialized poor were not focused on. In the modern city, the homeless population makes Los Angeles seem unclean and ghetto which is bad publicity so there is still an aim to target the homeless in order to profit from the more cleaner image of the city. more public and active during the time it was accepted. “Upon conviction, local judges punitively sentenced them to hard labor. Under the supervision of overseers and armed guards, convict laborers in Los Angeles cut key thoroughfares, macadamized roads, raised sidewalks, picked up rubbish, dug holes, filled holes, fixed bridges, and beautified parks. ”The city in turn became to be seen as more prosperous and respected, built on the “convict labor [that] was inscribed in the landscape of the city. ”The black population that is in turn easily exploited due to social discrimination that further dehumanized the individual who would be seen as both poor and foreign.

Further discrimination against the black population in Los Angeles consists of the physical damage the construction of freeways that literally cut apart neighborhoods into two parts. The destruction of black communities is covered in Eric Avila’s book “​The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City” where he criticizes the advantageous freeway systems millions use at the cost of destroying cultural centers and displacing the poor and colored. What a driver on a freeway in Los Angeles sees is the “image of power” which Avila equates is “the soaring angle, unhinged from the landscape of daily life, divorced from the social context of homes, streets, markets, sidewalks, pedestrians, and even cars..” Driving through a city does not tell the story of those who suffered at the cost of the freeway being placed there. The impersonal connection makes sure there is no thought to be worried about whom the freeway is negatively affecting and if someone happens to recognize that a black neighborhood was affected there is less of an uproar because it is normalized to have little respect to the black population when the assumptions about them made are that they are not respectable and are dangerous.

A frustrating discovery was the neighborhood of Windsor Hills, a rich black community in South Central. It was a shock to find out that there was a proud black neighborhood with a rich population and black owned businesses. It’s amazing to see people of color be economically stable and prosperous but what was agitating was that the community has never widely been represented in film. There should be representation for the entirety of the black population. The current representation creates biased views the public has for the communities showcased. If there were to be more equal representation of all black bodies there would be less of a specific view shaped by stereotypes toward those in South Central. Mass incarceration and the destruction of black communities would not be so easily accepted by the public if there were a more personal connection and mutual respect to black blondes but the type of limited representation they get in film creates a persona of the community that seems to be too dangerous to help.

Works Cited

  1. Avila, Eric. ​The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City​. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
  2. Camp, Jordan T., and Christina Heatherton. ​Freedom Now!: Struggles for the Human Right to Housing in Los Angeles and Beyond​. Freedom Now, 2011.
07 April 2022

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