Boyz n The Hood was a triumph on so many levels. Captivating and versatile character journeys, engaging story arcs from start to finish, and a very real sense of danger in nearly every scene. For much of the “Karen Army” (better yet the Navy) in the burbs, this was a rare nuanced look at the inner city that reaffirmed their Public Enemy induced fear of a black planet.
In the 30 years since the film’s release, many neighborhoods in the big cities have undergone significant gentrification. Parts of Brooklyn once deemed undesirable are now unaffordable.
Like many of Spike Lee’s film’s did for New York, One of Boyz n The Hood’s many crowning achievements was its calculated use of inner city Los Angeles as a main character and (intentional or otherwise) The visual timestamp of what the city was like during that time period.
A juxtaposition of sunshine, blue skies and palm trees with imagery of violence, drug use and systematic apathy lifted the veil and exposed the false narrative L.A. liked to promote for tourists: That the city began at the Hollywood sign and ended at the beach.
With 30 years of hindsight and clarity the film not only offers a reminder of how devastating the crack era was, but also serves as a barometer for how neighborhoods and landmarks have changed over the years.
Los Angeles has undergone significant changes that have left many neighborhoods stripped of their nuance to make way for sterilized modern structures with increased property values. Silver Lake and Echo Park have become bastions for hipsters, downtown, which once was a word put in quotation marks, has started developing into a real downtown and even Hollywood has gotten a facelift worthy of the name.
In the “hood,” change has been concentrated in one particular area and for one reason: Sports teams. When the Los Angeles Lakers were hanging banners in The Great Western Forum from 1967 to 1999, real estate developers were still years away from realizing the value in creating a destination around an arena. This was highlighted when the Nets opened the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2012 and created a new perception of the surrounding area.
In Inglewood, it was a combination of the newly renovated Forum (now owned by Madison Square Garden) and the L.A. Rams new state of the art facility, Sofi Stadium. What the stadium did for residents was catastrophic. With no rent control, families and business were being forced to either pay egregious increases (some more than doubled) or leave. It got so bad that in 2019 the city implemented an emergency rent control bill to offer residents some relief. Now the Clippers are building their own arena in the same area, set to open in 2024-2025 NBA season.
The locations featured in Boyz n The Hood have mostly remained the same, but the cultural iconography has not.
Actors Dedrick Gobert, Ice Cube and Baldwin C. Sykes onscreen in a scene from 1991's "Boyz n The Hood."
Actors Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Morris Chestnut onscreen in a scene from 1991's "Boyz n The Hood."
Toward the beginning of the film, Crenshaw was a cross section of classic cars and gunfire. Going back as far as War’s 1975 single “Low Rider” gave this West Coast hobby notoriety. Dr. Dre added an exclamation point with his own hit song “Let Me Ride.”
These days, that location is still associated with transportation, but since the 2014 Crenshaw/LAX project, it is now the train taking people where they want to go, and the exhibitionism that used to be a weekly occurrence is no more. Low riders are still an integral part of L.A.’s identity but street championed by Nipsey Hussle is no longer the center stage for flossing.
Another notable spot in the film is the Crenshaw Mall, where Doughboy got his revenge on the men who murdered his brother in a drive-by shooting. That mall has since built up the restaurants around it, giving it an overall more welcoming feel, though with retail dying a slow death, it’s not going to land on any L.A. bucket lists.
One undeniable effect Boyz n The Hood as well as Hip-Hop have had on inner city Los Angeles is the context of history. Because of movies like this and the impact of Hip-Hop, parts of Los Angeles that used to scare people away now have them coming from all over the world.
While serving a prison sentence in Leavenworth for drug trafficking, Hodari Sababu started a hypothetical company that offered tours of “the hood” as his class project. Once he got out, he turned that prison course into a real business called Hood Life Tours on Hollywood Blvd. Where in the past, people used films like Boyz n The Hood as checkpoints of places to stay from, the fear has since turned to fascination and tourists from all over the globe are signing up to see the places depicted by filmmakers like Singleton.
Hodari speaks on how the neighborhoods depicted in the film have not changed much from 1991.
What happened in the area shown in Boyz n The Hood was sort of the opposite of what has been happening in New York,” Hodari told Rock The Bells. “Areas like Compton, Watts, South Central - they started off as all white. It was like gentrification in reverse. Blacks started moving in in the 1960s, whites started moving out. Property value starts to go down when black families start moving in regardless of how they property is being taken care of. What’s happening a lot now is you’re seeing a lot of black families moving out and Hispanic families moving in, so I don’t really see a lot of gentrification in these neighborhoods. The houses mostly look the same,” he added.
Despite things looking mostly the same, Hodari cites one very specific reason that the locations in the film feel safer to the community, and it lends even more credibility to Singleton’s message.
“The main difference really had to do with what happened in the crack cocaine era in the 80s and 90s,” Hodari noted. “That had nothing to do with gentrification or [white flight], the crack era just abruptly came to a halt. After that everything got better: The streets are cleaner, the crime goes down and as a result everybody seems a hell of a lot happier.”