If John Singleton's goal in his latest film, Baby Boy, was to show how racism has affected black males in America, he failed miserably. Touted as the companion piece to his successful 1991 film, Boyz N the Hood, Singleton claimed that Baby Boy would be revolutionary; that it would open up a much-needed dialogue about the plight of African-American males.
Using Dr. Frances Cress Welsing's, thesis from the book The Isis Papers, the film begins with Welsing's theory that white supremacy and racism in the U.S. has kept black males in a perpetual state of infancy, thus making them unable to live up to their potential, explaining why they call their women "mama," their friends "boys" and their homes "cribs."
Jody, the main character in Singleton's film (played by Tyrese Gibson), is the classic example of this. He is 20 years old, unemployed, and has two "baby mothers" who he is unable to commit to. He lies and cheats. He spends most of his time driving around in his girlfriend Yvette's (played by Taraji P. Henson) car, picking up chicks and hanging out with his boy, Sweet Pea (Omar Gooding), who is an ex-con.
After being told repeatedly that he needs to grow up and be a man, Jody becomes entrepreneurial, selling stolen clothes. He attempts to get his life on track only when Yvette's old boyfriend, played by rapper Snoop Doggy Dog, lands on her couch. Of course, that's also when the guns came out. As we all know, any hood film has to have a drive-by.
Singleton has never been good at writing women's roles. While he shows some complexity in his male characters, the females are one-dimensional and stereotypical, overly horny, stupid, confrontational and loud.
There is no indication that Jody's mother (Adreinne-Joi Johnson) works, or of how she otherwise supports herself. The assumption is that she is on welfare. When she falls in love, it is with an ex-con (Ving Rhames).
Despite Jody's incessant cheating, Yvette puts up with him because "she loves him" - continuing the stereotype of the black woman as long-suffering. Jody eventually marries Yvette. Sweet Pea gets baptized. Matrimony and the church to the rescue!
Other female characters are basically there to tease the lead.
In the end, there is no discussion of racism and how it impacts the lives of black males.
This could have been a powerful story, but Singleton allowed the dictates of the marketplace to influence what he wrote and produced. The themes, although with some distinctions, is nothing new. Films such as Baby Boy - about blacks males in urban America - have become a kind of genre. They sell. And while Baby Boy may in fact mirror the reality of life in urban America for some, one has to wonder about the other folks who are left out. But I guess their stories would never sell.
Karen Flynn is a freelance writer and a doctoral candidate in the School of Women's Studies, York University. "everyone's a critic" is a rabble news feature providing commentary by various writers on, well, anything.
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