ReFocus: The Films of John Singleton

deadline for submissions: 
August 27, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Daniel Dufournaud

Call for Papers


ReFocus: The Films of John Singleton


Editor: Daniel Dufournaud


After the release of Boyz N the Hood in 1991, John Singleton became the youngest director, as well as the first Black American, to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director. A critical and commercial success, the film launched the career of a director who would subsequently work across a number of genres while maintaining his focus on the triumphs and tribulations, the joys and hardships, of Black Americans. Before his untimely passing in 2019, Singleton had secured his reputation as a highly flexible auteur with socially conscious takes on the romantic drama and the road movie (Poetic Justice), the campus film (Higher Learning), the historical drama (Rosewood), the coming-of-age drama (Boyz and Baby Boy), the crime thriller (Shaft and Four Brothers), and the action blockbuster (2 Fast 2 Furious).


Singleton made his celebrated films at a time when prospects for Black directors were scant, a time, moreover, when the American film industry exhibited a reluctance to finance films driven by concerns for social justice. Arguably, Singleton played an important role in laying the groundwork for a much more tolerant industry, as well as a wide viewership hungry for films about non-normative experience.


ReFocus: The Films of John Singleton aims to honor the filmography of one of American cinema’s great auteurs by offering a series of critical perspectives on and methodological approaches to Singleton’s films. The impetus for this collection of essays originates from the belief that scholarly work on Singleton has only begun to scratch the surface of what his films mean to us as viewers and scholars, their significance within the canon of Black American cultural output, and their importance to contemporary American film. Indeed, compared to all the studies on his contemporaries, scholarship on Singleton is relatively scarce. While supplementing past work on Singleton, this volume hopes to take the critical discourse on his filmography in new and fruitful directions.


This volume aims for comprehensive coverage of Singleton’s work in television and cinema, from Boyz N the Hood to the last film he directed, Abducuted, as well as his work as a producer and on the FX series Snowfall. Innovative methodologies are welcome, as well as essays that stage conversations between Singleton’s films and literature or philosophy. Preference will be given to contributions with the following characteristics: first, a focus on multiple films as opposed to close analysis of a single work; and second, given Singleton’s candid desire to make art about Black life, attention to his place within the long tradition of African American cultural and intellectual output. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:


1. Race and racial identity

2. Masculinity (its vulnerabilities as well as its performative underpinnings)

3. Space and place

4. Institutions, from the school to the family

5. Intellectual and/or spiritual development

6. Singleton and Black American filmmakers (e.g. Spike Lee, Melvin Van Peebles, and the Hughes Brothers)

7. Singleton and the Black literary or radical tradition (e.g. Black Arts Movement; Harlem Renaissance; and figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison)

8. Music and sound in Singleton’s films

9. Singleton’s work with actors (particularly with such hip hop and R&B artists as Ice Cube, Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, and Busta Rhymes)

10. Singleton’s path through the film industry


This volume, promising to take scholarship on Singleton’s work in exciting new directions, will be an entry in Edinburgh University Press’s fabulous ReFocus series, collaboratively edited by Robert Singer, Gary D. Rhodes, and Frances Smith. If you want to contribute, please send a 350-word abstract detailing your argument and your approach, as well as a 100-word biography, to by August 27, 2023. Final essays should be 6,000 to 8,000 words (including notes) and formatted according to Chicago endnote style. Accepted contributors are expected to submit their pieces by December 18, 2023. If you have questions about the collection or about an idea for a contribution, please drop me a line at the above address. I am happy to respond to queries.