On this day in 1992, John Singleton became the first Black movie director to be nominated for an Academy Award. His nomination was for best director and best screenplay for his first film, “Boyz N the Hood.” Coming of age in the 1990’s, this movie resonated with me because of the sense of community and understanding it portrayed, while these young men were themselves growing up, navigating through peer pressure and the relevance of a strong Black father.
On a personal note, John Singleton was a participant in the Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) through the NAACP as a teenager. I also participated in ACT-SO, which was my first introduction to the name, John Singleton.
Along with Singleton’s critically acclaimed “Boyz N the Hood,” his 1995 film, “Higher Learning,” was also a favorite of mine. It follows students at a fictional university throughout a tumultuous semester. Two of the main characters, Malik (played by Omar Epps) and Remy (played by Michael Rapaport), are freshmen trying to navigate their way through their freshman year while attempting to fit in. In their efforts to fit in, the roommates in the film separate and gravitate towards their ethnic peers; Malik being Black and Remy, a Neo-Natzi Skinhead. Throughout the film, the theme of inclusion was prominent.
During my matriculation through undergraduate and graduate school, this is something I can relate to very well, as I am sure most students can. We all want to be accepted and there is no more frightening moment than being the new kid, a freshman, transfer student or a new graduate student, at a new university (getting to know other students and experiencing new events), my sense of diversity heightened to more than racial diversity but to include gender, and other cultures.
As an administrator, I value the issues John Singleton brought to the surface in this film. At a time when segregation no longer exists and we have a Black President, there is still a necessity to promote racial tolerance, inclusion and diversity. These are the ideals of an enlightened society, and principles, I am pleased to say, that Upper Iowa University is committed to throughout the fabric of the institution and the educational experience of its students.
We should all aspire to John Singleton’s approach to these issues and recommit ourselves to a world where we are all judged by the content of our character…and nothing else.