The executive director of the Film Academy, Bill Kramer, recalled Saturday in Toronto that his group’s film museum will dedicate a space in February to the work of the late director John Singleton. kids in the neighborhood.
So here’s a kind plea to the museum: Do this unapologetically.
At the moment, the Academy and its museum are in apology mode. Next Saturday brings “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather,” complete with “a long-awaited statement of apology from the Academy” for what it describes as 50 years of boycott, attack, harassment and discrimination following Sacheen’s onstage rejection of a Oscar meant for Marlon Brando.
The museum’s current film noir “Regeneration” celebration also comes with a note of regret. “We should have seen it a lot sooner, but this is the day it starts,” Academy Governor Ava DuVernay said of black achievement while hosting the show.
Apologies may be in order. There will probably be more. But Singleton and their 1991 debut film deserve to be remembered for what they were: a proud and unapologetic presence in a studio culture that was happy to have them.
I knew John only a little, certainly much less than his executive mentor and later collaborator Stephanie Allain, or the many young people who worked at his New Deal production company. While at Columbia trying to produce movies in the 1990s, he had an office two doors down from Singleton’s. On one project, an action movie never produced, we were partners. Sometimes we talked, long enough that I could understand his quiet pride in having found his place in the study system at the age of 22.
He was so young while doing kids in the neighborhood. By the age of 27, she had made three studio features (adding poetic justice Y greater learning), all for Columbia, a remarkable feat.
Certainly, Singleton had his frustrations, then and later. Allain could tell you more about that. Above all, I remember a moment of personal uncertainty, as he wrestled with options between potentially hot action projects or a deeper immersion in black culture. he moved to Rosewoodabout a lynch mob, for Warner, and mostly stuck to black culture.
But the respect he commanded at Columbia was no less than that accorded to more experienced filmmakers and producers: Penny Marshall, Harold Ramis, Danny DeVito, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Duvall, John Woo, Adam Sandler, Wolfgang Petersen. Jim Brooks. who then populated the Sony lot.
Frank Price, the politically center-right studio chief who gave Boys his green light, he was certainly proud of the film, so much so that he cast his young star Cuba Gooding Jr. in his own first production, the ill-fated boxing movie. Gladiatorleaving his executive post.
Jeff Stockwell, later a development executive for Maurice Sendak, and later a screenwriter, enjoyed underground celebrity status on the lot just for having seen Boys— or so the legend went — when I was working in the guts of Columbia’s history department.
As for my action project, the studio accepted a flyer—after paying $5,000 for a brief exclusive reading stint that covered 52 pages from a writer not produced at the time, a rather strange deal—because Singleton was interested. They loved him so much.
Of course, the Academy loved Singleton enough to make him the first black nominated for its directing Oscar, in 1992. Singleton told me later that his only wish was to lose the distinction of being the only black nominated for directing. . Others followed, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele.
So there’s nothing to apologize for, nothing to regret, other than Singleton’s untimely death from a stroke in 2019.