John Singleton
Singleton in 2013
John Daniel Singleton

(1968-01-06)January 6, 1968
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedApril 28, 2019(2019-04-28) (aged 51)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
  • Director
  • screenwriter
  • producer
Years active1986–2019
(m. 1996; div. 1997)

John Daniel Singleton (January 6, 1968 – April 28, 2019) was an American director, screenwriter, and producer. He made his feature film debut writing and directing Boyz n the Hood (1991), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, becoming, at age 24, the first African American and youngest person to have ever been nominated for that award.[1]

Singleton went on to write and direct other films, such as the romantic drama Poetic Justice (1993), the socially conscious drama Higher Learning (1995), the historical drama Rosewood (1997), the crime film Shaft (2000), the coming-of-age drama Baby Boy (2001) and the action films 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and Four Brothers (2005). In television, he co-created the television crime drama Snowfall and directed episodes of shows such as Empire, Rebel and the fifth episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special for the latter.

One of the most successful and groundbreaking directors in African-American cinema, Singleton and his films represented the African-American experience in urban populations, focusing on themes such as black masculinity, trauma, racism and identity. Singleton frequently cast rappers and musicians, such as Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, Janet Jackson, Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and André 3000 in prominent roles.

Early life

John Singleton was born on January 6, 1968,[2] in Los Angeles, the son of Shelia Ward-Johnson (later Morgan), a pharmaceutical company sales executive, and Danny Singleton, a real estate agent, mortgage broker, and financial planner.[3] In a 1993 DIRT magazine interview with Veronica Chambers, Singleton says of his childhood, "When I was growing up, comic books, video games and movies were my buffer against all the drugs, the partying and shit [...] I never grew up with a whole lot of white people. I grew up in a black neighborhood."[4] He attended Eisenhower High School, Blair High School, Pasadena City College and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Singleton was a spring 1987 initiate into the Beta Omega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi and graduated from USC in 1990. Singleton considered pursuing computer science, but enrolled in USC's Filmic Writing program under Margaret Mehring.[5] The program was designed to take students directly into the Hollywood system as proficient writer/directors.


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1990s: Early career and breakthrough

Singleton in 2000

In 1991, Singleton made his film debut with Boyz n the Hood., a coming-of-age crime drama about three childhood friends growing up in the crime-ridden neighbourhood of South Central LA. Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Angela Bassett, Regina King, and Laurence Fishburne, the film was both a critical and commercial success. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. For his efforts, Singleton received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.[6] At age 24, he became the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and the first African-American to be nominated for the award. In 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[7]

In 1992, following the success of Boyz n the Hood, Singleton went on to direct VFX-driven "Remember the Time" music video for Michael Jackson, which featured Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson.[8] The song and the music video were well-received and peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles as well as the Mainstream Top 40 chart. It is certified 3× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Internationally, the song was a Top 10 hit in nine countries, peaking at No.1 in New Zealand, at No.2 in Spain and No.3 in the United Kingdom.

In 1993, Singleton wrote and directed his second film, Poetic Justice, a romantic drama about a young African-American woman named Justice (played by Janet Jackson, in her film debut) who writes poetry to deal with the loss of her boyfriend to gun violence but soon encounters a postal worker (played by Tupac Shakur), who helps her overcome depression. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but earned Jackson Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song for "Again", which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The film has developed a cult following, especially for the chemistry between Jackson and Shakur and is now considered as one of Singleton's most enduring films.

In 1995, Singleton wrote and directed Higher Learning, a socially conscious drama about the intense racial and social tension in a university campus. Like Poetic Justice, the film received mixed reviews.[citation needed] Of his work with some of the 1990s' most visible rappers, Singleton states,

"I come from the same place as rappers. It's cool because it's just another form of communication. I have the same sensibilities as rappers. I'm not bourgeois and everything, thinking I'm better than folks. I see myself as the first filmmaker from the hip-hop generation. I've grown up with hip-hop music. The films I make have a hip-hop aesthetic. It may not have rap in it, but there's a whole culture and politics that go with the music. It's young, black culture-that's what I deal with in my films."[9]

In 1997, following the mixed reception of Poetic Justice and Higher Learning, Singleton's fourth film, Rosewood, a historical drama based on racial violence during the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida, received generally positive reviews and was entered into the 47th Berlin International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear.[10]

2000s: Continued success

In 2000, Singelton co-wrote, co-produced and directed Shaft, a sequel-remake of the original 1971 film of the same name starring Richard Roundtree in the title role. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as Shaft's relative, John Shaft Jr., the film received generally positive reviews and was a box office success, grossing over $107 million worldwide.

In 2001, ten years after the release of Boyz n the Hood, Singleton wrote, produced, and directed Baby Boy, a coming-of-age comedy-drama about Jody Summers (played by Tyrese Gibson), a 20-year-old man who fathers two children by two different women- Yvette (played by Taraji P. Henson) and Peanut (played by Tamara LaSeon Bass) but still lives with his own mother (played by Adrienne-Joi Johnson) while he lives and learns in his everyday life in the hood of Los Angeles. The film received predominantly positive reviews, many of whom consider it to be a return to form for Singleton and one of his best films.

Singleton's next film was 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), the sequel to The Fast and the Furious (2001) and the second installment in the Fast and Furious series. The film was a box office success, grossing over $236 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film in the series at the time, as well as the highest-grossing film of Singleton's career.

In 2005, Singleton teamed with writer-director Craig Brewer to finance and produce the independent film Hustle and Flow, once it was clear that most other major backers would not clear it for release.[citation needed] The film stars Terrence Howard as a Memphis hustler and pimp who faces his aspiration to become a rapper. Also starring Anthony Anderson and Taraji P. Henson in supporting roles, the film received positive reviews and earned two Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor and Best Original Song, winning the latter.

That same year, Singleton directed Four Brothers, a blaxploitation-inspired action film starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund as four adopted brothers who return to their hometown of Detroit, Michigan to avenge the murder of their adoptive mother. The film received mixed reviews from critics but grossed $92 million worldwide.

In 2003, Singleton received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[11]

2010s: Unrealized projects

In 2011, Singleton was in talks with Ice Cube, who worked with Singleton on Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, to direct a biopic about Cube's rap group N.W.A. before F. Gary Gray was hired in August 2012. The film was released in 2015 to positive reviews and box office success.

Two years later, in 2013, Singleton was attached as the writer-director of a biopic about the life, career and death of rapper Tupac Shakur. On April 3, 2015, Singleton reported that production was put on hold.[12] Following creative differences with Morgan Creek Productions, Singleton had stepped down as director, and was replaced by Carl Franklin.[13] Singleton also stated he was planning on making a competing film about Tupac.[14]

The film was eventually released in 2017 as All Eyez on Me, which was negatively received by critics and audiences and Singleton himself, who intended to make his own biopic about Shakur as well as a biopic about the rap group Three 6 Mafia, who worked with Singleton on Hustle & Flow, prior to his death in 2019.

2017–2019: Transition to television and final years

Following the release of the critically-panned action thriller film Abduction (2011), Singleton spent the final years of his career focusing on television.

After directing episodes of the critically acclaimed TV shows Empire and American Crime Story, in 2017, he served as an executive producer and director of the crime drama series Rebel for BET, which focuses on Oakland police officer Rebecca "Rebel" Knight, who after her brother was killed by police, began working as a private investigator.

That same year, Snowfall, a crime drama series co-created and executively produced by Singleton for FX, premiered on July 5, 2017. Singleton co-wrote the screenplays for the first two episodes with series creators Eric Amadio and Dave Andron and directed the finales for the first two seasons. The series stars Damson Idris as Franklin Saint, a budding young drug dealer from South Central L.A., and it depicts how the community is affected by the 1980s crack epidemic, and the CIA involvement in trafficking the drug.[15] This was one of the last projects Singleton worked on before his death in 2019.[16]

Influences and themes

Singleton cited the original Star Wars film as one of his strongest influences, as well as the works of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and playwright August Wilson.[17] Singleton was influenced by his friend and fellow filmmaker Spike Lee. The two met in 1986, at a screening of Lee's film She's Gotta Have It, two weeks before Singleton started attending the University of Southern California (USC).[citation needed]

Personal life

Singleton was the father of seven children. With his wife, Tosha Lewis, he had his first daughter Justice Maya Singleton (born 1992), named after the lead character of the same name (played by Janet Jackson) in Poetic Justice and the poet Maya Angelou respectively.

Singleton has a son named Maasai Singleton (born April 3, 1996) and a daughter named Cleopatra "Cleo" Singleton (born September 6, 1998) with ex-girlfriend Vestria Barlow. On October 12, 1996, Singleton married Ghanaian actress Akosua Gyamama Busia, the daughter of Ghana's second Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia. The couple had a daughter[18] named Hadar Busia-Singleton (born April 3, 1997), who appeared in Tears of the Sun (2003) and other films. Singleton and Busia divorced in June 1997. He had one daughter in 2010 with Mitzi Andrews, an actress/model and teacher based in Toronto, Canada.[19][20] He also had a son, Seven, with Rayvon Jones.[21]

In 1999, Singleton pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery charges after attacking an ex-girlfriend during a dispute over child visitation. He was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to make a film on domestic violence.[22]

On August 23, 2007, Singleton was involved in an automobile accident in which he struck a jaywalking pedestrian, Constance Russell, 57, of Los Angeles.[23] Staying on the scene until the police arrived, Singleton was not under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and was released after being questioned. Russell died later in the hospital. The case was turned over to the District Attorney, but no charges were ever filed.[24][25]

On March 19, 2014, Singleton criticized popular studios for "refusing to let African-Americans direct black-themed films". Singleton told an audience of students at Loyola Marymount University "They ain't letting the black people tell the stories." He also added, "They want black people [to be] what they want them to be. And nobody is man enough to go and say that. They want black people to be who they want them to be, as opposed to what they are. The black films now—so-called black films now—they're great. They're great films. But they're just products. They're not moving the bar forward creatively. ...When you try to make it homogenized, when you try to make it appeal to everybody, then you don't have anything that's special."[26][27][28]


On April 17, 2019, Singleton suffered a stroke and was placed under intensive care.[29] He reportedly began to experience weakness in his legs after returning to the United States from a trip to Costa Rica. On April 25, it was reported that he was in a coma,[30] but his daughter stated otherwise.[31] On April 28, Singleton was removed from life support and he died at the age of 51 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.[32][33][34] Dozens of actors and musicians paid tribute to him.[35]

American rapper and actor Ice Cube, who worked with Singleton in Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, said: "There are no words to express how sad I am to lose my brother, friend & mentor. He loved [to] bring the black experience to the world."[36]

A private funeral was held on May 6, 2019, in Los Angeles, and Singleton was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills.[37] The official cause of death was acute ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, and hypertension.[38]



Year Title Director Writer Producer
1991 Boyz n the Hood Yes Yes No
1993 Poetic Justice Yes Yes Yes
1995 Higher Learning Yes Yes Yes
1997 Rosewood Yes No No
2000 Shaft Yes Yes Yes
2001 Baby Boy Yes Yes Yes
2003 2 Fast 2 Furious Yes No No
2005 Four Brothers Yes No No
2011 Abduction Yes No No

Producer only

Year Title Notes
2005 Hustle & Flow
2006 Black Snake Moan
2007 Illegal Tender Also music supervisor
2008 The Making of 'Illegal Tender' Documentary short

Executive producer

Year Title Notes
1998 Woo
2004 Time Out Short film
2014 Through a Lens Darkly Documentary

Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1991 Boyz n the Hood Mailman
1994 Beverly Hills Cop III Fireman
1995 Your Studio and You Himself Uncredited
2000 Shaft Bored Cop with Tea Cup
2001 Baby Boy Man Selling Bootleg Movies
2002 8 Mile Bouncer
2003 Baadasssss! Detroit J

Other credits

Year Title Credit
2002 sIDney Mentor to the director


Year Title Director Executive
Writer Notes
2009 81st Academy Awards Yes No No Segment: ''The Biggest Movie Event of the Year"
2010 30 for 30 Yes No No Episode "Marion Jones: Press Pause"
2015 Empire Yes No No Episode "Dangerous Bonds"
2016 American Crime Story Yes No No Episode "The Race Card"
2017 L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later No Yes No Documentary film
Rebel Yes Yes No Director (episode "Pilot");
Executive producer (3 episodes)
Billions Yes No No Episode "Victory Lap"
2017–19 Snowfall Yes Yes Yes Co-creator;
Director (2 episodes); Writer (2 episodes)

Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
2013 The Game Himself 2 episodes
2014 Real Husbands of Hollywood 2 episodes

Other credits

Year Title Role
1986 Pee-wee's Playhouse Production Assistant
1988 Beach Boys: Endless Summer

Music videos

Year Title Artist Role
1992 "Remember the Time" Michael Jackson Director
2003 "Act a Fool" Ludacris Himself

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Title Result
1991 Academy Awards Best Director Boyz n the Hood Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2016 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story
(For episode "The Race Card")
2017 Outstanding Documentary L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later Nominated

See also


  1. ^ "How John Singleton Made History as the Oscars' First Black Best Director Nominee". IndieWire. April 29, 2019. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  2. ^ "UPI Almanac for Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019". United Press International. January 6, 2019. Archived from the original on September 11, 2019. Retrieved September 10, 2019. filmmaker John Singleton in 1968 (age 51)
  3. ^ "John Singleton Biography (1968–)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 8, 2010.
  4. ^ Chambers, Veronica (1993). "Singleton". DIRT Magazine. No. 5. p. 28.
  5. ^ "Margaret Mehring". USC School of Cinematic Arts. September 3, 2008. Archived from the original on August 19, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2010.
  6. ^ "Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award". USC Cinema. Archived from the original on August 26, 2009.
  7. ^ "Films Selected to The National Film Registry, Library of Congress 1989–2008". Library of Congress. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Parales, Jon (February 4, 1992). "Review/Video; Michael Jackson's Costly New Promotional Clip". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
  9. ^ Chambers, Veronica (1993). "Singleton". DIRT Magazine (5): 31 – via Online Archive of California; University of California, Los Angeles Library Special Collections.
  10. ^ "Berlinale: 1997 Programme". Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  11. ^ "John Singleton". October 25, 2019.
  12. ^ Grow, Kory (April 3, 2015). "New Tupac Biopic 'On Hold,' Says Director John Singleton". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  13. ^ Donnelly, Matt (April 7, 2015). "Carl Franklin to Replace Director John Singleton on Tupac Biopic". TheWrap. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  14. ^ "John Singleton Exits Tupac Biopic, Plans Competing Film". Rolling Stone. April 9, 2015.
  15. ^ Mitovich, Matt Webb (May 8, 2017). "FX Sets Premiere Date for Snowfall Drama, About Birth of Crack Epidemic". TVLine. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Judge, Monique (April 21, 2023). "With 'Snowfall,' John Singleton's final gift to us was his greatest". Andscape. ESPN Enterprises, Inc. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  17. ^ "John Singleton". The Hollywood Masters. Season 2. Episode 3. March 15, 2018. Event occurs at 3:00. Netflix.
  18. ^ Fierman, Daniel (October 16, 1998). "Brawl Over 'Beloved'". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on March 24, 2007.
  19. ^ "Judge Grants John Singleton's Daughter A Monthly Allowance". MadameNoire. December 2, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  20. ^ "Justice Singleton". WrapWomen. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  21. ^ "John Singleton's Mom Seemingly Accuses His Girlfriend Rayvon Jones Of Not Doing Enough To Save His Life: No One Called 911". theJasmineBRAND. August 10, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  22. ^ "Director Ordered to Make Domestic Violence Film". Los Angeles Times. June 24, 1999. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  23. ^ "Filmmaker John Singleton Involved in Fatal Car Accident in L.A." Fox News. August 25, 2007. Archived from the original on July 14, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2010.
  24. ^ "Movie director Singleton kills pedestrian in accident". CNN. August 25, 2007. Retrieved October 8, 2010.
  25. ^ "Singleton released after questioning". Variety. August 26, 2007. Retrieved October 8, 2010.
  26. ^ Appelo, Tim (March 24, 2014). "John Singleton Says Studios 'Ain't Letting Black People Tell Stories,' Unveils Tupac Biopic Plans". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  27. ^ Child, Ben (March 25, 2014). "John Singleton accuses Hollywood of ignoring black directors". The Guardian. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  28. ^ Rawden, Mack (March 24, 2014). "John Singleton Slams So-Called Studio Liberals For Not Offering More Opportunities". Cinema Blend. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  29. ^ Moniuszko, Sara (April 20, 2019). "Director John Singleton suffers stroke, Snoop Dogg and more stars send their support". USA Today. McLean, Virginia. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  30. ^ Gonzales, Sandra (April 25, 2019). "Director John Singleton in coma following major stroke". CNN. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
  31. ^ Coyle, Jake; Italie, Hillel (April 29, 2019). "John Singleton, maker of 'Boyz N the Hood,' dies at 51". Retrieved April 30, 2019. Ward's filing said that Singleton was in a coma. But on Friday, Singleton's daughter Cleopatra Singleton, 19, filed a declaration disputing that account. She maintained that her father was not in a coma and that doctors did not "have a concrete diagnosis."
  32. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (April 29, 2019). "John Singleton Dies: Trailblazing 'Boyz N The Hood' Filmmaker Was 51". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  33. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (April 29, 2019). "'Boyz n the Hood' Director John Singleton Dies at 51". Variety. Los Angeles, California – via MSN.[permanent dead link]
  34. ^ "John Singleton's Death Certificate Reveals Actual Date of Death by Stroke". TMZ. May 6, 2019. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  35. ^ Pedersen, Erik (April 29, 2019). "John Singleton Remembered: Hollywood Reacts To Director's Death At 51". Deadline. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  36. ^ Burks, Tosten (April 29, 2019). "Ice Cube, Janet Jackson, Q-Tip, More Pay Tribute to John Singleton". Spin. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  37. ^ "John Singleton's Private Funeral Set For Monday, May 6". TMZ. May 3, 2019.
  38. ^ Birk, Libby (May 7, 2019). "John Singleton Cause of Death Confirmed". Pop Culture Media. Brentwood, Tennessee: Entertainment Tonight/TV Guide Network. TMZ. Retrieved May 11, 2019.

Further reading