Baby Boy

Baby Boy begins with a voiceover that quotes a psychological theory that racism has made black men into babies, citing three reasons: (1) They call their spouses “mama.” (2) They call each other “boy.” (3) They call their home “the crib.” However, no such terminology emerges in the film, which is directed and written by John Singleton, who won two previous Political Film Society awards – for Boyz ‘n the Hood (1991) and Rosewood (1997). Instead, Baby Boy conjures images of the famous Moynihan Report of 1965, which argued for the War on Poverty on the basis of a finding that the Black community has a fragile family structure. Whereas the Moynihan Report was attacked for racial stereotyping by many scholars at the time, Baby Boy brings to the screen the most vivid portrayal of dysfunctional Black families ever. The setting is Los Angeles, and according to Singleton Baby Boy is a “companion piece” to Boyz ‘n the Hood. Jody (played by Tyrese Gibson), the central character is the baby boy of the film. He is an irresponsible, anomic 20 year old, has served some time, lives with his Mom Juanita (played by A. J. Johnson), has no proper job, has fathered a child with Yvette (played by Taraji P. Henson) as well as Peanut (played by Tamara LaSeon Bass), refuses to marry either doubtless because he has no legitimate income, fools around with other women, and his best male friend, Sweetpea (played by Omar Gooding), is a punk. From time to time he visits his son and Yvette, whom he drives to work and picks up from work in exchange for fixing up her car; but she is unhappy that he cannot settle down with her. Along comes Melvin (played by Ving Rhames), who carries on a love affair with his Mom and moves into the house, causing Jody to fear that he will be evicted. There are plenty of conflicts, in other words, especially when Melvin keeps telling Jody that his a “baby boy,” and Yvette refuses to see Jody and let him use her car because he is fooling around with other women. The conflicts are expressed through a range of behavior from verbal profanity to hysterical scenes to brutal violence. Restricted to using a bicycle, Jody goes to a convenience store one day for some wine, only to be roughed up by a gang of teenagers, and his revenge comes when he teams up with his punk friend, gets guns, and terrorizes the gang members. Strangely, Yvette admits former boyfriend Rodney (played by Snoop Dogg) to stay with her after he is released from jail, and Rodney is eager to rape her. When Rodney realizes that she will not submit to his authority because she loves Jody, he administers a drive-by shooting to the “baby boy.” The shooting traumatizes Jody, so he and his punk friend go after his assailant. Jody does not have the indecency to kill Rodney, but his punk friend does, and Jody is again traumatized. After Jody goes home, Melvin sees him in shock and pries the gun from his hand. Thereafter, Jody grows up. He makes his peace with Melvin, and he has the maturity to marry Yvette. Most reviews of Baby Boy appear after a press screening, but I preferred to attend at a cinema where a substantial number of African Americans were in the audience. Clearly, they saw themselves accurately portrayed in the film, confirming the genius of John Singleton. Among the themes is the fact that every single African American male in the film has either been in prison, is in prison, or would be in prison if police, absent in the film despite many violations of the law, were more prevalent; all are what Eldridge Cleaver called “supermasculine menials.” All African American men and women are starved for love, often solving strident lover’s spats articulated with a lot of profanity through the tenderness of sensual and amorous sex. However, the homeboys at the cinema not only cheered whenever brutal violence appeared on the screen but also laughed at some of the saddest scenes, which they considered to be exaggerated or mushy. Clearly, another film could be made of how homeboys view Baby Boy, one that would be far more surreal than Baby Boy’s message. If Singleton were to write a third film to complement both Boyz ‘n the Hood and Baby Boy, the focus would doubtless be on how the African American men in both films receive their real education in prison, as LA public schools nowadays provide neither textbooks nor homework nor job skills for them to become grown-up, income-earning adults. Meanwhile, the Political Film Society has nominated Baby Boy as best film exposé of 2001. MH