Baby Boy
Film Reviewed by Marvin X

Baby Boy

Written, Directed, Produced 
by John Singleton

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Rating: R
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Theatrical Release Date: June 29, 2001
DVD Release Date: November 6, 2001
Run Time: 129 minutes
Production Company: Columbia Tri-Star

Tyrese Gibson stars as Jody
Yvette (Taraji P. Henson) 
Peanut (Tamara LaSeon Bass)
Juanita (Adrienne-Joi Johnson)
Sweetpea (Omar Gooding) 
(Snoop Doggy Dogg)
Marvin (Ving Rhames)

Reviewed by Marvin X 

From Boyz in the Hood to Baby Boy is not much progress, or is it a necessary return to the scene of a crime for a closer look at the evidence, to figure out a motive, to clarify certain thoughts on a problem that has proven a conundrum. Certainly the situation of the black man in America is such a problem. How did he get here, why, and how will he get where he wants and should be? The movie opens with some definitions of boy, crib, mama-and I was waiting to hear man defined, as in The Man, as in white man as opposed to black man. I have been told John lacks political consciousness, so perhaps this is why he didn’t go into The Man but stayed with Baby Boy-an easier task, yet difficult enough to confound the greatest minds in the world. DuBois, Garvey, Elijah, Malcolm, Fanon, Hare, these are a few of the men who’ve tried to decipher the innards of the black man’s soul, heart and mind. 

So we must give John credit for stepping into high cotton, for attempting to answer a most profound question, how do we get the black boy to manhood, especially when many fathers have long gone and society deals with the question as a criminal matter, especially when the Oedipus drama between boy and mom reaches the climax or gets out of control. 

On one level, the answer to all this is very simple, manhood training is the prescription John’s movie tries to fill: initiating the boys into manhood. Since the Black Men’s Conference in Oakland, 1980, many organizations have come on the scene to offer manhood rites for black boys, from coast to coast there are age-grade ceremonies and rites of passage. But most of these programs are relegated to the bourgeoisie youth, the ghetto boys must fend for themselves. At least John had enough sense to transcend gang socialization and affiliation as a solution because it is mostly a case of the blind leading the blind. 

The sole elder or manhood facilitator is the mother’s boyfriend, an ex convict trying to do the right thing after a ten year journey up river. In spite of his serious limitations including the neglect of his own children, he initiates Jodie into manhood. The boyfriend is the only adult male we see, although we hear of previous abusers of Jodie’s mother and of his father we learn very little, mainly that he is long gone, the typical situation in the hood where the black man is a premium and often a rarity in the family or anywhere else, after all the black man is busy escaping from the ever encroaching white man and his variety of viruses, from jail, prison, alcohol, drugs, homosexuality, infidelity, insanity, hostility, etc. 

We see the boyfriend is a killer and he comes close to taking Jodie out in a fit of rage that might be excusable as a manhood training exercise-he had to show Jodie who’s the man, or at least the elder or the authority figure, a similar procedure practiced by the police when they stop ghetto youth for the slightest matter-they terrorize them, punch, hit, choke them, often before asking for ID. In the end, Jodie is dancing to the Boyfriend’s music, literally and spiritually, suggesting his maturity, but John takes us into the surreal for this to happen. 

We see Jodie shot multiple times, but in the Christian tradition surfacing from the deep structure of the movie, Jodie is crucified, resurrected and completes his journey into manhood. He ascends. He leaves his mama’s nest and goes off to create his own with his ever insecure baby’s mama. In spite of their immaturity, the couple revealed deep love and affection, which is usually the case with the woman, but we never doubt that Jodie loves his baby mama number one. 

I really appreciated John’s ear for our language-it was precise and true to people in the hood-it was poetry to my ears, a vindication of the freedom of speech the Black Arts movement presented and the rappers extended.

Now Peanuts, baby mama number two, is lost in the scuffle, which is another problem that John S. was obviously incapable of dealing with as are most Christians and most Muslims, the problem of the other woman. So Peanuts is like Hagar and her daughter like Ishmael, abandoned and sent into the desert to be forgotten. At some point in our existence, we must deal with the multiple families we have created-if polygamy is not the answer, then what is? It was obvious Jodie was not mature enough to handle one woman, let alone two or more-and he didn’t really try, but clearly the women in the hood wanted him to be their BD, baby’s daddy.

I really appreciated John’s ear for our language-it was precise and true to people in the hood-it was poetry to my ears, a vindication of the freedom of speech the Black Arts movement presented and the rappers extended. It was raw but natural-thank God the culture police didn’t censure him because they have no originality or creativity, only moral hypocrisy. Let the people speak their language, let their voice be heard-freedom of expression is a political act protected by the Constitution, or it was before 911.

I enjoyed the love scenes, they too were natural and not the usual fake looking arrangements-and the mama’s boyfriend butt naked in the kitchen cooking breakfast was a monster. The motif of the mother in the garden worked for me, except some close-ups of the vegetables might have made them not look so phony. The mother in the garden and in the house was central to what Baby Boy was all about-getting the bird out of the nest, out of the garden, out of the house, so mama can have a life and the boy become a man. Without daddy, there is only so much mama can do-and the boy warriors are so rebellious an early exit is necessary. They cannot linger pretending to protect mom-as mom said, whatever happens in love is going to happen. Don’t get me wrong, Jodie had a right to be concerned about his mother’s safety since she had a history of hooking up with violent males. But after OJ the violent male is a top priority of the criminal justice system-often the children become obsessive in their concern for mama, as if they can pick and chose who mama sleeps with. The mother was forceful in demanding a life of her own, she was busy kicking birds out of her nest, or crib as they say.

For a moment, I saw sparks of Death of A Salesman when Jodie decided to do for self and began selling women’s clothing. This was revolutionary-maybe John does have some consciousness. Jodie had enough sense not to sell dope and not to work for the white man. And he was quite a salesman. John could have told us why Jodie chose to sell women’s clothing-aside from the fact that women have money on a constant basis-they can always get money, I’ve heard-but selling to men is a problem because of playa hatin, jealous, envious brothers-something the movie could have discussed at this point, because this has great relevance for the state of mind, growth and maturity o f the black man-why is it so difficult to sell something to another black man? When I was a dope fiend, I made it a practice to never buy dope from a black man-my choice was the women dope dealers who gave up love, as they say. Why can’t a black man give another black man justice? This has everything to do with manhood training and John failed to pick up the ball here. I know brothers who sell women’s clothing for all the above reasons.

But finally, the movie was too long. There came a point when we knew nothing else could happen except the moment of truth-when the bullfighter kills the bull. And we wanted to see the blood and get it over with. The brother coming home from prison and returning to his ex girl’s house was a prescription for homicide in the hood. With so many young men caught up into the criminal justice system, this is an important issue that should have been dealt with as such, but it was done in a Miller Lite fashion, not exploring the sensibilities of the brother coming home to no home, to no woman, no family. It could have been treated on a deeper level without getting the script off focus. 

Snoop Dogg did a great job with the limited script. With respect to the woman, it has to do with control, power, and ownership, as if the woman is chattel, personal property. This must be a subject in the curriculum of manhood training. That’s her pussy, Mr. Black man-if you can control your dick and protect your dick, you will be doing wonders for yourself and the entire community. The dialogue over pussy and dick was boring, probably because I’ve heard it throughout my relationship with women and I refuse to go there at this point in my life-I don’t want to discuss what I do with my dick or what you do with your pussy. Whatever we do together is our business and what I do without you is mine-and what you do without me is yours. I have transcended flesh. Too many of my friends have made their transitions behind flesh. I don’t plan to go out that way. It is said half the brothers in prison are there behind trying to impress a woman or behind a woman that they have convinced themselves they were in love with-when in most cases the brother didn’t love himself because he had no knowledge of self and most especially no knowledge of a woman.

John Singleton accepted a great challenge when he wrote, directed and produced Baby Boy, but one thing a young man lacks is wisdom, for it only comes with age or in deep consultation with the elders. If he had shown the young brothers meeting with the elders, the movie would have taken us as a community to a new level of consciousness. One day such a meeting will take place and be the subject of movies because it will usher in the reconciliation and stabilization of our community. We shall go nowhere as long as our young boys must fend for themselves, must reinvent the wheel of fortune. The challenge is not on the young, but on the elders: black men must step to the front of the line. Time out for marching and talking-Marcus Garvey told us the world is moving against all unorganized people. Black man, get organized!

Black Power Line

(Published: November 23, 2001)

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