Vincent Vega, Luke Skywalker, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk… There are a lot of magnificent names in cinematic folklore, but “Furious Styles” is surely jostling hard for top spot. The good news? This winning moniker isn’t false advertising either. Playing the pivotal role in Boyz N The Hood, Furious (Laurence Fishburne) is one of Hollywood’s greatest dads.
Admittedly, he’s a total hard-ass in John Singleton’s 1991 ghetto morality tale. Then again, he is bringing up his son, Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr), more or less single-handedly in South Central, Los Angeles. The aforementioned hood is a place where crack cocaine and incidental murders are rife and police helicopters are a constant background drone. Within such a precarious environment, Furious clearly feels a stern hand is required. As he says to Tre after loading him up with chores, “I’m trying to teach you to be responsible.”
First and foremost, Furious is a role-model with swagger. Amongst all the chest-bumping machismo of Doughboy (Ice Cube) and his baseball-capped cronies, the Vietnam vet turned mortgage broker stands apart as a man who’s virile yet conscientious. Unlike so many of the other doomed characters in the film, his masculinity is channelled in a positive direction. Furious is a man on a mission determined to raise his son and help his beleaguered community regain its power and self-respect.
It helps that he’s also totally fearless. When his house is burgled one night, Furious charges after the intruder with his gun and then confidently stands his ground against a racist cop. Leading Tre and his mate into a Compton no-go zone for an impromptu lesson on gentrification, Furious blithely ignores a gang of threatening youths who start to eyeball the trio. “Can’t afford to be afraid of our own people anymore, man,” he shrugs.
Furious is also a liberal dispenser of paternal wisdom. Tre is taught to always look a person in the eye and never be afraid to ask his father for anything. But in a film where fatherhood becomes an underlying theme (is there a hidden pun in the title?), Furious dedicates one of his most memorable lines to the subject. “Any fool with a dick can make a baby,” he tells his son. “But only a real man can raise his children.” The sentiment was deemed good enough to be later appropriated by no less an orator than Barack Obama. (“What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it’s the courage to raise one”).
Babies are a big concern for Furious. After fathering Tre when he was just 17, he’s keen his son doesn’t repeat his own mistakes and jeopardise his education. (“How many times do I have I told you, if a girl says she’s on the pill, you use somethin’ anyway.”) His other preoccupation is insuring that Tre doesn’t get sucked into the gang-life of drive-by shootings and jail like Doughboy and co. “You’re my only son, and I’m not gonna lose you to no bullshit, you hear?”
Part of the reason that Singleton painted such a heroic picture of Furious is down to his own life story. After misbehaving at school, Tre is sent by his single mother to live with his dad. That was exactly what happened to Singleton as a boy. As the late director explained in a 1991 interview with Oprah Winfrey, “The story of Boyz n the Hood is just a catalyst for me when I went to live with my father when I was 12 years old. My father whipped me into shape. He made me mow the lawn and take out the trash; things I never had to do.”
Singleton admitted that Furious was a lightly fictionalised portrayal of his own father “a hardworking brother that cares for his son and cares how his son is raised.”
The film pointedly demonstrates the damaging impact of the absent father. Towards the end, Ice Cube gives his fatalistic and quietly moving speech about the hopeless nature of life on the streets. It’s hard to imagine the character in the same desperate scenario with a glowering dad like Furious watching his back.
Re-watching the film, Boyz In The Hood can feel a touch heavy-handed at times. But Furious is the charismatic traction-beam that pulls you through. Armed with his silver pair of Boading balls rather than a light-saber, he serves as the Obi Wan Kenobi mentor who guides Tre through his coming-of-age journey. But his inspiration stretches further than his son. Carrying himself with rangy athleticism and bullet-proof assurance, Furious demonstrates that fatherhood is the Champions League of manhood. As he replies to a cheeky jibe from Tre, “Getting old? No, no, no. I’m getting better.”