Boyz 'N The Hood


A Comparison Of Two Films 

 "I've gone too far to go back and too far to go on" was
one of the most powerful lines in "Menace II Society". It
represents the thinking of many of the characters in the
movies "Boyz N the Hood" and "Menace II Society" who were
caught up in the endless cycle of city violence. Actions of
characters in both films are directly affected by the
people they encounter who act as role models for the
developing youths. The violent surroundings they lived and
grew up in were difficult to escape and made survival
harder as time went on. In each movie, the way role models
influenced characters' decisions involving violence is
represented very differently. Movies based upon themes of
the importance of role models, rely on the fact that role
models are needed because "conditions in certain inner
cities are hazardous to a child's physical health, mental
health, and social adjustment" (Uehara 779). Because it
depicts the effects of positive role models on youth in
black America, "Boyz N the Hood" is a better movie than
"Menace II Society". 

Directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, "Menace II Society"
chronicles the violent summer of 1993 experienced by new
high school graduate Caine and a group of friends living in
Watts, California. Caine (orphaned years ago when his
father was killed and his drug addict mother died of an
overdose) lives with his grandparents, devout Christians
whose beliefs he rejects. From the opening scene, when a
friend, O-Dog, murders two store clerks, Caine's summer is
filled with violence. Human life has little value, as even
petty disputes lead to cold-blooded murder. Caine not only
learns street values embedded in a distortion of the word
"respect" but also does nothing to gain respect. To him and
his friends respect is only intimidation because of fear
("Menace II Society"). 

"Boyz N the Hood" is a film about a group of black
teenagers in South Central L.A. The main character, Tre, is
a 17-year-old on the verge of going to college. He hangs
out with his best friend, Ricky, a teenage parent who hopes
to win a football scholarship. Both boys are brought down
to reality by their dangerous surroundings and by the
actions of Ricky's brother and ex-convict, Doughboy.
Meanwhile, Tre's divorced father struggles to rescue his
son from the violence and negative influences that surround
him from all sides ("Boyz N the Hood"). Boyz N the Hood is
a better movie because the effects of positive role models
are seen through the portrayal of violence, crime, and
family values.
Although "Menace II Society" looks at the development of
the street criminal, the regular scenes of violence often
take place without meaning. Constant scenes of gunplay
appear throughout the film and only seem to fulfill an
entertainment aspect without presenting a strong message.
For example, Caine turns to violence after his cousin is
killed and murders another teenager. Caine is driven to
these actions because he has grown up with violence all
around him and was never taught otherwise. Even at a very
young age he saw his own father murder another man in his
home. After committing murder, Caine only realizes that
taking another person's life did not make him strong as he
thought it would.
On the other hand, constant scenes of violence are not seen
throughout "Boyz N the Hood" because of the effect of
positive role models. Violence is delayed until the viewers
learn more about the characters and develop sympathy and
feelings for them. In this way, violence is portrayed in a
more meaningful and emotional way rather than just for
entertainment. Director John Singleton says that when he
depicts violence he is "making you feel something, when
somebody dies or something happens you feel something-and I
think that's more disturbing than killing a hundred people
in a film" ("It's not just black and white" 1). For
example, Tre attempts to stay away from violence because
his father has taught him many values. Near the end of the
movie when Ricky is killed, Tre eventually decides not to
use violence because of his father's influence. 

Another aspect in which both movies engage, is crime. In
"Menace II Society", characters are often involved with
various types of crimes, but few repercussions follow these
actions. An illustration of thoughtless crime is best seen
when O-Dog robs a convenience store and kills two clerks.
Again, role models do not teach him otherwise which is
apparent from his attitude. O-Dog kills without conscience;
he enjoys replaying the security camera videotape of his
murder to his friends and thinks that it is humorous. Also
deprived of values, Caine turns to crime and steals rather
than working for what he wants.
However, in "Boyz N the Hood", crime is seen much
differently. Characters without role models (Doughboy) go
to juvenile hall as children and eventually prison for
committing crimes. Tre, on the contrary, stays away from
trouble such as drugs and alcohol because of the strong
influence his father has been. His father teaches him about
respect and responsibility when Tre is a child by making
him do chores while other children have no one to teach
Most importantly, each movie is separate in its handling of
family values. Throughout "Menace II Society", there are no
positive role models to teach younger generations about
values. Cain's father sold drugs, his mother was a heroin
addict, and their friends were ex-convicts. All of the
younger gangsters, including Caine, look up to a friend who
was imprisoned for murder. Therefore, it is no surprise
that when he becomes older he also turns to drugs and
crime. For instance, Caine went to jail for attempting to
steal a car, and he robs people at gun-point throughout the
However, family values are displayed more effectively in
"Boyz N the Hood". Because he lives with his moralistic
father, Tre learns many values which in turn affect his
actions during the entire movie. For example, his father
teaches him that anyone can have a baby, but only a real
man can raise his children. As a result, Tre is reluctant
to have sex because he understands the responsibilities
involved in having children. His actions are altered by
having a positive role model whom he respects throughout
the movie. This respect is obvious when Tre admits that he
rarely lies to his father.
By examining role models and their effects on violence,
crime, and family values, "Boyz N the Hood" conveys a much
deeper message on how the problem of black youth violence
should be solved. In the end it appears that the only
message portrayed by "Menace II Society" is how a child is
transformed into a gang criminal. Unfortunately, Hollywood
gangster films often only attempt to "ironically chart the
end of the lower-class ethnic family from which gangsters
are seen to derive" (Winokur 12). While containing more
action than "Boyz N the Hood", "Menace II Society" fails to
present a message of how we should solve the problems of
gangs, crime, violence, and drugs. 

However, these movies do allow viewers to see the obvious
cause of the cycle of violence in the inner city. No
alternatives are presented in "Menace II Society". This
allows the film to be told in one summer because we know
the end result of immediate violence, death. In "Boyz N the
Hood", the story takes place over several years in order to
demonstrate the long-term effects of raising children with
values. These effects caused by positive role models are
best seen by noticing that characters in "Menace II
Society" are quick to solve problems with violence, while
characters in "Boyz N the Hood" look to the future before
making decisions. According to Marian Wright Edelman, "It
is time for parents and preachers and teachers and
community leaders to fill the huge moral and guidance
vacuum with time, attention and positive alternatives to
the streets" (4). Therefore, until positive role models are
more common, the cycle of inner city violence will be very
difficult to end.
Works Cited
"Boyz N the Hood." Cinemania 96. 1st ed. CD-ROM. Microsoft
Corporation, 1995.
Edelman, Marian Wright. "We must not lose what we knew was
right then." Ebony Nov 1995: 5 pp. Online. Internet. 27
Feb. 1996
"It's not just black and white." Tharunka Online 3 pp.
Online. Internet. 27 Feb. 1997
"Menace II Society." Cinemania 96. 1st ed. CD-ROM.
Microsoft Corporation, 1995.
Uehara, Edwina S. "African American Youth Encounters With
Violence." Journal of Black Studies July 1996: 768-781
Winokur, Mark. "Eating Children Is Wrong." Sight and Sound
Nov 1991: 10-13


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