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16 Surprising Facts About Boyz N the Hood

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“One out of every 21 Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male.”

That’s the statistic that set the tone for audiences as they entered theaters 25 years ago today to see Boyz N the Hood, a film that took its title and one of its leads (Ice Cube) from the rap group N.W.A.

The film marked the feature directorial debut of John Singleton, who was just 23 years old at the time. With its raw story of life in South Central Los Angeles, the film shook the country and shocked the world with its unrelenting depictions of violence and poverty.

The cast of unknowns went on to become a who’s who of talented actors and actresses, and the film is now considered an undisputed classic that changed how stories were told on film, not just for “Black movies,” but for all of cinema.

1. THE STORY IS LARGELY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

When writing the script, John Singleton (then 21 years old) pulled from his own life growing up in Los Angeles. The main character, Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), is sent to live with his father across town while his mother works and goes to school, which is the situation Singleton found himself in as a child. He has stated in interviews and in DVD commentary that several elements from his real life made it into the script and film, from the blocks where he used to live to the elementary school that he attended and even a few specific events, including the time his father shot at a fleeing burglar. “It was kind of cathartic," Singleton said. "This movie was my way of kind of getting out of the ghetto as a person.”

2. SINGLETON WAS OFFERED $100,000 TO WALK AWAY.

While pitching the script to different companies, Singleton refused to give out copies unless someone was willing to make a deal where he would get to direct the film, even though he had no prior feature film directing experience. Columbia Pictures expressed interest in buying the film, and during a meeting Singleton was offered $100,000 to let a more experienced director take over the project. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll have to end this meeting right now, because I’m doing this movie. This is the movie I was born to make,'" Singleton recalled in the documentary Friendly Fire: Making of an Urban Legend. Columbia’s response was to give Singleton the green light and $6 million to make the movie.

3. IT WAS TECHNICALLY A BIGGER HIT THAN TERMINATOR 2.

In the fight for box office dollars, there was no competition between Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Boyz N the Hood in 1991. The former raked in nearly $205 million domestically, while Singleton’s film only made around $58 million. But numbers can be deceiving: Terminator 2 cost $102 million to make, or just under half of what it pulled in, while Boyz N the Hood only cost $6 million to make. According to EbonyTerminator 2 had a much wider theatrical release, but Boyz N the Hood made more money per screen.

4. THE FILM OWES A LOT TO SPIKE LEE.

Singleton was inspired and motivated by Spike Lee, though not in an entirely positive way. He says that hiring Black people to work in front of and behind the camera was one thing he took from the director, but his motivation to make films like Boyz N the Hood came after Lee—who he looked up to—didn't hire him as a production assistant on Do the Right Thing. “When they didn’t I was like ‘F*ck Spike Lee, I’ma do my own sh*t. I’ma make a West Coast movie,'" Singleton said during a panel discussion at the 2011 LA Film Fest. It was after seeing Lee’s Oscar-nominated film in theaters that Singleton began writing his own script.

5. ICE CUBE AND LAURENCE FISHBURNE WERE SHOO-INS.

Many of the film's lead actors are respected actors today with impressive resumés but, like Singleton, many of them were unknown at the time, which was by design. In Friendly Fire, Singleton said that he told casting director Jaki Brown that he “didn’t want to see anybody that you’ve seen in any other movie before.” Laurence Fishburne had had several small roles in films like The Color Purple and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, but his real break was playing a supporting character for nine episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, where a 19-year-old Singleton worked as a security guard. He told Fishburne then that he would someday write a movie and have him in it.

Singleton also knew that he wanted Ice Cube to play the role of Doughboy, but he had to work for two years to convince the rapper to take the job. “I was really engulfed in my music,” Cube said in 2011, “but I had seen Ice-T do New Jack City and Kid ‘n Play do House Party, so I was like, ‘OK, it’s time for us rappers to make movies now’ ... but I hadn't read the script or memorized the lines, so I kept f*cking up. It was just terrible.”

Despite a bad audition, Singleton was in Ice Cube’s corner because he believed in the rapper’s ability (and because it worked with his vision). He told him to go read the script and to come back the next day, but warned him that he had to be good or they would find someone else. Cube realized that the movie was really “about how we grew up,” and was able to successfully tap into the character.

6. STACEY DASH WAS ALMOST TRE’S LOVE INTEREST.


The role of Brandi launched Nia Long’s career as an actress, but she wasn’t the only person to read for the part. Brent Rollins—a college friend of Singleton’s and the designer of the film’s logo—wrote about how he was there when Stacey Dash auditioned. A few years later she became well known as Dionne in the very different LA-centric film, Clueless.

Cuba Gooding Jr. said that there were other familiar faces there at the time of his audition, including Shemar Moore and the Wayans Brothers, but he did not say which roles they were reading for.

7. THE FILM INCLUDES HOMAGES TO STAND BY ME.


In an interview with Jog Road Productions, producer Steve Nicolaides revealed that Singleton wanted him to produce the film because of his previous work on one of Singleton’s favorite films, Rob Reiner's Stand By Me. Reiner picked up on Singleton’s choice to mimic a fade out effect on one of the main characters at the end of the film. “It was an homage,” Nicolaides told Reiner during the making of A Few Good Men. “I mean, the fat kid wears a striped shirt in it, too.”

Another element that the films share is the invitation to “see a dead body.” Singleton says that he hadn’t actually seen a dead body growing up.

8. THERE’S A SLIGHT DISS AIMED AT N.W.A.

By the time he was cast in the film, Ice Cube had already left the rap group N.W.A because of issues with royalties and his interest in pursuing a solo career. There was some bad blood between Cube and his former bandmates, so Singleton decided to throw in an inside joke, which he revealed in the DVD commentary. He had the rapper bring old Eazy-E shirts to the set, and in one scene a crack addict wearing one of the shirts runs by and tries to steal the character Dooky’s gold chain, but he is caught and swiftly punished.

The real Eazy-E would later tell SPIN magazine that Boyz N the Hood reminded him of a “Monday after school special with cussin’,” adding that Ice Cube was only being used to sell the film.

9. SHOOTING ON LOCATION HAD SOME OF THE CREW ON EDGE.

All of Boyz N the Hood was shot in the houses and on the streets of South Central. Even though Singleton and others in the cast and crew called the neighborhood home, filming there was a bit more unpredictable than filming on closed sets. “The set was about 10 blocks from my house,” Nia Long said. “I could have walked, except that probably wouldn’t have been the safest thing to do.” Cuba Gooding Jr. said that there were fistfights and threats everyday, and Singleton said in his commentary that after an altercation, there was a threat of gun violence by local gang members. The film crew requested that a van be parked behind them while filming so that if a drive-by did happen, they would be safe.

Singleton used the dangers of the neighborhood to ramp up tensions. In one scene, the characters are supposed to react to rapid gunfire on a crowded Crenshaw Boulevard, but Singleton did not tell them when it was coming. The only direction he gave was for Ice Cube to drive off in his 1964 Chevy Impala when he heard the shots. In his commentary, the director said that genuine reactions to the noise are what created the perfect chaos on screen, with characters running, ducking, and falling over each other.

10. EVERYONE COULD FEEL THE EMOTION IN THE SCRIPT.

In his commentary, Singleton admitted that he cried while writing Doughboy’s monologue for the end of the film, which includes the iconic line “either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the ‘hood.” Cube has said that the scenes where he is supposed to cry were the hardest for him because he was used to burying his feelings. Gooding was not as composed. He once punched a hole in a wall during an emotional day and the crew had him sign it. In the DVD documentary, Fishburne said that he cried while reading the script, and Long said that after filming the scene where Tre punches at the air in frustration, she left the set to cry outside.

11. THE MOST ICONIC SCENE WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT FOR MORRIS CHESTNUT.

Morris Chestnut said that his first film role is the one that he is recognized most often for, and it’s all thanks to the alley scene. Dropping your milk and scratch-offs and trying to run from a shotgun blast (in slow motion) sounds difficult enough, but Chestnut said in an interview with The Huffington Post that the technical side of the scene required more focus than the acting. “The stunt coordinator was telling me ‘Listen, when you run, make sure you keep your head up.’ Because if you put you head down, those [squibs] could explode in your face ... so I was very nervous.”

12. IT BOOSTED SALES FOR MALT LIQUOR BRANDS.

Hip hop has a long and complicated history with the alcohol and tobacco industries. Showing characters drinking 40-ounce bottles on screen, though a reflection of real life, caused sales to skyrocket. A Los Angeles-based distributor of St. Ides was forced to ration his stock following the film’s release because of increased demand.

Ice Cube was a spokesperson for the malt liquor until the brand came under pressure for controversial ad campaigns in late 1991. According to David J. Leonard in the book Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture, Volume 2, Cube had become “increasingly uncomfortable” with promoting the beverage, and having Doughboy pour it out at the end of the film was “not just about the character paying respect to the dead but reflects Cube’s own desire to wash his hands of his relationship with Ides and the advertising industry’s exploitation of hip hop.”

13. BOYZ N THE HOOD TOOK THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL BY STORM.

Those involved in the making of the film knew how special it was, but they were not sure how it would translate culturally (and with subtitles) to the Cannes audience, which was far removed from the streets of South Central Los Angeles. According to Nicolaides, the response was overwhelming. “Lights go down, the movie plays out, the movie’s over, lights go up ... I look up and people are hanging off the balcony trying to get John’s attention to say how great it was. The whole Mount Rushmore of Black artists and filmmakers is on their feet ... Roger Ebert is crying his eyes out. It was one of those.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the standing ovation lasted for 20 minutes.

14. LIFE IMITATED ART IMITATING LIFE WHEN THE FILM OPENED IN THEATERS.

As was the case with New Jack City four months prior, Boyz N the Hood was met with some backlash after some incidents of violence at theaters were reported as being related to the film. In the DVD documentary, Singleton said that he left one showing just before alleged gang violence erupted (he personally witnessed a potential conflict between Crips and Bloods and tried to have security intervene), but he maintained that neither he nor the film were to blame because it was a reflection of real life.

According to a Newsweek article published that summer, around 21 theaters pulled the film after “opening-night violence left two moviegoers dead and more than 30 injured.” A story in JET magazine cited film critic Roger Ebert as saying that actor Mickey Rourke blamed “malicious directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton” for instigating the Los Angeles riots. “It wasn't the film,” Singleton told Newsweek. “It was the fact that a whole generation [of black men] doesn't respect themselves, which makes it easier for them to shoot each other. This is a generation of kids who don't have father figures. They're looking for their manhood, and they get a gun. The more of those people that get together, the higher the potential for violence.”

The director went on to call the pulling of the film from theaters “artistic racism,” adding that fights happen all the time, but “because my film has a black cast, it gets pulled—just like that.”

15. THE PRESIDENT RESPECTED THE FILM’S REALISM.

In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, then-President Bill Clinton was asked about comments that the attorney general had made about violence on television, and whether or not the government was granted the power by the Constitution to restrict what viewers saw. In his response, Clinton referenced Boyz N the Hood and shared his thoughts on the film:

“I do believe that the people who are making the films and the shows are just reflecting what they think the consumers want and what they think is really going on in society. I understand that. But because that is what is in fact going on in society, there's a synergy that is destructive ... There is a synergy, and I don't think we can avoid that fact. The best thing is for us to ask ourselves what can be done to break the link without muzzling the creators. For example, I watched Boyz n the Hood very carefully. While it was very violent, it had no romance about the violence. That is a movie I would've wanted a lot of elementary-age kids in the inner city to see, because there was no romance. It was a mean, ugly, sad, heartbreaking tale of basically good kids who wanted to have a decent life who had it taken away from them.”

16. IT HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

In 2002, Boyz N the Hood was entered into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, a program established in 1989 as a way to preserve films deemed important enough to be kept for future generations. Only 25 films are chosen each year. “I was honored ... that means that it’s one of those things that goes far beyond my life,” Singleton told BlackTree TV. Stephanie Allain, who was an executive at Columbia Pictures at the time, added that they had the opportunity to present the film to the Congressional Black Caucus. “That was very special ... to have lawmakers watching the movie, that’s the stuff of dreams. That means you’re doing something really, really well.”

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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