An Interview with one of the most important new voices in film

Bill Singleton. Okay. Just for my readers and listeners, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions. Could you give our readers and listeners a sense of your personal history, like where you grew up and went to school, who were some of your role models and what religious influences, if any, you had and this kind of thing?

John Singleton. Well, basically I’m from South Central LA; and I’ve grown up here in Los Angeles, and I haven’t lived anywhere else. And when I was growing up, my influences were mostly from my father and from my comic books, you know; and at a certain period, people that I grew up with that were older in my neighborhood that I looked up to and I found out, you know, I shouldn’t be looking up to.


I think the fallacy of Black cinema as a whole is that most of the films that come out are actually not films; they’re comedies, they’re musicals. They’re made just to sell a sound track…


Bill Singleton Okay. These are some questions about black filmmaking: On this theme of urban life, some people are criticizing your movie saying that it only represents one-third of the black population and they say that we should spend more time looking at the middle class. What do you think of that?

John Singleton. You mean the bourgeoisie population?

Bill Singleton. Yeah, the black bourgeoisie.

John Singleton. If anybody with any halfway sense of intelligence looks at my film, they’ll notice that I never deal with just one class. I have different classes in my film. There’s a multiplicity of people and character. I think the fallacy of Black cinema as a whole is that most of the films that come out are actually films; they’re comedies, they’re musicals.

They’re made just to sell a sound track, and they have no characters with any depth to them and no stories that have a beginning, middle and end. You know, I went to school for what I’m doing. You know, I just didn’t hop up and get a camera and start doing movies.

I’m a scholar at what I do, and I hope that people that are truly interested in making films know that they can’t just do it. You have to study what you do, be a master at what you do, at least try to. .

Bill Singleton. Sure thing. Yeah, you were saying that you studied, you took the time to look at the Aristotelian way of making a movie as well as all the different kinds of ways of making movies. You just didn’t say, “I’m going to do something?”

John Singleton. Yeah. You know, it’s just a matter of knowing what you do. Just like in the rap world, right, everybody and their mama wants to be a rapper, right?

Bill Singleton. Right.

John Singleton. Not everybody is a poet or a scholar and can throw as well as the next guy. The ones that do are the ones that spend time in their craft, the ones that have a focus and have a voice. The ones that falter are the ones that don’t have a voice. The only thing they can talk about is death, money and —


Not everybody is a poet or a scholar and can throw as well as the next guy. The ones that do are the ones that spend tie in their craft, the ones that have a focus and have a voice.


Bill Singleton. And getting over?

John Singleton. Yeah, and getting over. They can’t rise anywhere above that. They don’t have any staying power and, you know —

Bill Singleton. So the history is important to developing a self-knowledge in growing?

John Singleton. In any discipline. But it’s like, you know, that’s what it’s all about. In any art it’s about staying power, and I plan to be around for a long time.

Bill Singleton. I’m planning to support you 100 percent. What are some of the solutions? You know, you presented some of the problems in your film and you also presented some solutions. What are some of the solutions to black America as you see it? What three things

John Singleton. Black people need to stop being suspicious of each other —

Bill Singleton. Right.

John Singleton. — where true oppression is coming from and open their own businesses and hire their own, and that’s just the same way that other successful groups in this country act. And all that began with the family. If you have, like, a family and your family is faltering, you should be doing everything you can to keep your family strong.

Bill Singleton. Yeah.

John Singleton. And then, you know, your family should consolidate, stick together to get over, you know.


(Solutions?)  Black people need to stop being suspicious of each other…where true oppression is coming from and open their own businesses and hire their own, and that’s just the same way that other successful groups in this country act.


Bill Singleton. Strong families build nations.

John Singleton. That’s where we got more problems. We always have had problems, right?

Bill Singleton. Yeah.

John Singleton. In this nation we’ve got a force that –it works against us.

Bill Singleton. Right.

John Singleton. But back in the day, people had a stronger family, you know, grandmothers and grandfathers could live with the family, you know, extended family, and people stuck together. You didn’t hear things about people not having any where to live. You can go to another city and live with your relatives or whatever, right?

Bill Singleton. Yeah.

John Singleton. Now it’s like, you know, you have people in the same city, they have relatives —

Bill Singleton. And you don’t see them at all.

John Singleton. — and they’re living on the street. Oh, he lives around the corner. You know, you got an extra room, how come you’re not taking care of your brother? You know, so you’re weak.

Bill Singleton. I like that. Yeah, it’s very important to have that. Families build nations. You know, people need to know that.

John Singleton. We not going to have a nation if we don’t have a strong family.


In any art it’s about staying power, and I plan to be around for a long time.


Bill Singleton. And look what they did when they brought 10 us, you know, from Africa from the middle passage. First thing they did was they broke the 11 family up.

John Singleton. Been doing it ever since.

Bill Singleton. With big-budget action films going bust, white stories in Hollywood being done to death and to the point of boredom, black filmmakers have been given green lights to do their projects; but how much independence do we really have given we still don’t own any major points of distribution in the film business or any businesses?

John Singleton. We have no independence. We can do them and try to get the best product we can doing it and hope for the best. .

Bill Singleton. Yeah.

. What is the most —

John Singleton. What’s this for, radio?

Bill Singleton. Well, no. It’s for the magazine, for Black History. I hope you got a copy of it. But we are going to try to do a radio portion of it or something some day. I like to tape the interviews.


Been doing it ever since.


Bill Singleton. What book most impressed you?

John Singleton. Huh?

Bill Singleton. What book that you read most impressed you?

John Singleton. The “Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

Bill Singleton. Why is that now?

John Singleton. Because that book is probably one of the most significant novels in the last 50 years
Bill Singleton. Okay. Your personal history: your favorite color. Some people might want to know that. Your favorite dinner?

John Singleton. Favorite dinner?

Bill Singleton. Yeah.

John Singleton. I don’t know. Chicken.

Bill Singleton. And your favorite color?

John Singleton. Favorite color, black.

Bill Singleton. All right. Now say someone wanted to do a film — this is for perspective filmmakers, Let’s say they’ve written a script and they wanted to direct it, how would they go about doing it and what is the process they would go through? Do you need to go through four years of school directing to —

John Singleton. No, you need to have a really good script first. You know, a lot of people say they want to be filmmakers but they don’t really know how to actually go about that, and it all begins with the story.


 

Favorite color, black.


Bill Singleton. Would they read something like Syd Field’s, you know —

John Singleton. I read that in the 11th grade. I read it in the 11th grade, and I just internalized it. You don’t follow it as a religion. You just –you get the foundation down and then you learn how to make your ideas work for you.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here