Hood films depict the everyday lives of African Americans and Hispanic Americans in inner-city communities. These films explore various topics and issues including gang activity, gun violence, abuse of different aspects, poverty/financial obstacles, racial issues, parenting, educational gaps/disadvantages, drugs, hood professions, romantic relationships, and generational curses. Hip-Hop also heavily influences these films and true stories fall under the category. Narratives that use storylines based on true events with fictitious accounts can be included as well. The 1990s was the golden era for hood films, bringing us classics such as Boyz N’ the Hood, Juice, Menace to Society, South Central, Set it Off, New Jersey Drive, Fresh, In Too Deep, Belly, Dead Presidents, Jason’s Lyric, and many more. Not only did the 1990s help popularize hood films, but black cinema as a collective was defined. Hood films were at a peak, the movies produced were legendary, the characters were unforgettable, and the storylines were authentic, still resonating with audiences today. Hood film characters, whether fictional or non-fictional, were and still are groundbreaking. These films tell stories that help to shed light on various things, giving people in urban communities a voice. Unfortunately, some actors never shook their characters portrayed on the big screen out of their system, causing them to travel down dark paths with no return. In other instances, actors do so well at portraying the characters that their stars rise. This makes it difficult to differentiate the real them from the screen persona. Method acting is a common strategy used in movies. It’s usually needed in roles packed with intense emotions: a character battling an illness, a villain, the bad guy with anger issues, a drug addict, a character with severe mental health issues, a character who is subject to trauma, and so on. This form of acting allows the actor to deliver a believable, captivating performance while connecting with the audience. Hood films are notorious for violence. It can be easy for actors to heavily indulge in the role so that their real life character won’t be tested for street knowledge and overall want to give memorable performances. Lloyd Avery II’s behavioral shift was reminiscent of Tupac Shakur’s most famous character, Bishop, in Juice. Today, I’d like to shed some light on both individuals who gave us phenomenal performances from two hood films that will forever be classics; Avery II tried to live the lifestyle of his role. I’ll explain some connections between the two.
Brief Backgrounds Before Fame:
Lloyd Avery II
Lloyd Avery II’s name may not ring a bell. However, he is in part responsible for one of the most iconic scenes in film history. He portrayed Knucklehead #2 in John Singleton’s critically acclaimed film, Boyz N’ the Hood. Avery II grew up in a middle-class family and attended Beverly Hills High School where he excelled in sports such as water polo and baseball. When peer pressure arises, things can get pretty tempting. Avery wasn’t one to give into peer pressure. He was mesmerized by the glamorous lifestyles of rich friends and classmates (friends with rich and some even famous parents); Avery would normally park his “brown flatbed truck… blocks away from school”, (Linda Avery, Stranger Than Fiction). He was liked by many, but most importantly, accepted for being himself. Avery managed to get along with everyone, had a very warm spirit, and “he was most likely to succeed. He was the one who motivated people to do better”, (Quincy “QD3” Jones III, Stranger Than Fiction). He made straight As and graduated high school in 1987. Evidently, college/trade school weren’t the best options for him because he decided to leave Los Angeles Trade Technical College less than a year after starting. Avery II had aspirations of becoming famous in the entertainment industry. His father was against his aspirations and believed that a trade would be a more practical fit in terms of his son’s career. In spite of his father’s wishes, Avery pursued his dreams.
Tupac Shakur was an entertainer/activist and one of the most influential figures of all time. His music and all that he represented resonates with us all today. Shakur alone was quite a character outside of films. Shakur attended Baltimore School for the Arts as a teenager, worked honest jobs, and “he had a real clear, I guess you’d say, revolutionary perspective on the world” as described by Donald Hickens, head of Baltimore School for the Arts’ theatre department. Shakur worked odd jobs including one at a pizza shop during his time at school. Shakur sold drugs for a short period of time. A pregnant lady tried to purchase drugs from him, making him stop. Also, his mother, the late great Afeni Shakur who was a former member of the Black Panther Party, battled drug addiction and he didn’t want to make major contributions to the game that was destroying her or to sell to other people’s mothers. She became sober and in spite of everything, they always shared a tight bond. Shakur channeled the stressors of living in a poverty stricken environment into outstanding performances at school, such as “A Raisin In the Sun”. Along with acting, he would write potent rhymes (poetry, music). When he was 18 years old, he became the chairman of the New Afrikan Panther Movement, a division in the New Afrikan People’s Organization. The purpose of this new found movement was to educate young blacks about their history (for further information, see links below). Shakur lived in different states throughout his youth, helping to make him well-rounded. He had some success with his group, Strictly Dope and most notably, Shock G’s Digital Underground (I was in the middle of completing this article when I heard the unfortunate news of Shock G’s untimely passing. Rest In Peace Shock G).
In 1991, Shakur landed the role of Bishop in Juice, directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, written by Dickerson and Gerard Brown. Juice followed the lives of four Harlem teenagers: Q, Bishop, Steel, and Raheem. Bishop was misguided. Although it’s not directly stated, Bishop’s father was raped in prison. His father is emotionally detached and traumatized as a result of the abuse. Throughout the film, all of the friends, especially Bishop, became frustrated with the lack of respect. To change this, they get a gun and orchestrate a robbery of the local corner store owner. Bishop felt that the gun gave him something he had been missing and refused to give it up. This resulted in him murdering Old Man Quilez, Raheem, and Rademes. Bishop was unpredictable and this made his friends fear for their safety. Overall, Bishop was a well developed character and represented a segment of the youth that had no direction in life. This character intimidated many people, however, I believe Bishop was scared himself of life’s uncertainties which caused him to be the way he was, along with other factors. To be clear, Shakur didn’t turn into the character of Bishop once Juice wrapped. Sure, the film elevated his celebrity more and made other directors and writers destined to work with him; Shakur’s way of approaching characters had a lot to do with him finding commonalities between himself and that character. With that, part of him was already connected to Bishop. He naturally embodied some of the character’s traits and brought that into the audition. He did so well that viewers and fans believed Bishop was who Shakur really was; Shakur’s sometimes outrageous behavior could be highly reminiscent of Bishop. The character may have looked dope on paper, but he gave life to Bishop.
John Singleton’s Boyz N’ the Hood debuted in 1991 and demonstrated to viewers what life was like in South Central, Los Angeles, California during that time. Gang activity was at a high and it was easy for the youth to fall into the gang lifestyle. Perhaps one of the biggest rivalries was between the Rollin’ 60s Crips and the Crenshaw Mafia Bloods. Avery II’s character in the film, Knucklehead #2, was short, yet memorable. We were introduced to Knucklehead #2 when he pulled out his double-barrel shotgun on another character, Tre, while Tre was crossing the street. Knucklehead #2 always sat in the back seat of his friend’s, Ferris’, red 1988 Hyundai Excel. One night while hanging out with friends in the Crenshaw District, Ricky was viciously pushed, by Ferris. When Ricky asked Ferris what was wrong with him, Ferris became upset. Doughboy, Ricky’s older brother, stepped in and asked if there was a problem in order to defend his brother; Doughboy flashed the gun he had tucked in his pants by lifting his shirt. Knucklehead #2 instructed Doughboy to put his gun away. The two crews eventually went in seperate directions, but Ferris started blasting his gun in the air to scare the main group of friends. The following day, Ferris and his two friends decided to retaliate. Knucklehead #2 fired shots at Ricky’s back as he tried to run away; Ricky instantly succumbed to the injuries. Doughboy got his revenge the same night by killing the three gang members; Doughboy himself was murdered weeks later. I believe it’s safe to assume that Avery II’s character, Knucklehead #2 was a misguided youth. Avery II excelled so well at this character that some people thought he was a real gang banger and killer after the film’s release.
Issues with other movie roles and troubles on the sets:
Shakur and Avery II continued to work on films after Boyz N’ the Hood and Juice. In 2002, Avery II was casted to portray Nate in Lockdown (released July 14, 2003). The film was directed by John Lussenhop and written by Preston A. Whitmore II. Avery II’s character, Nate, was an inmate and drug-addict. The fact that the character battled an addiction problem didn’t sit well with Avery II. He even lost control on set one day and started to swing a baseball bat out of frustration while ranting. Some of Avery II’s co-stars found him difficult to work with. Before Vonte Sweet was casted to portray the ex-knucklehead turned Muslim, Sharif, Shakur was selected for the character in Menace to Society (released May 26, 1993). The film was directed by the Hughes Brothers (Allen and Albert) and written by Allen and Tyger Williams. Shakur felt that Sharif’s character needed more development and wanted to understand why Sharif became a Muslim. Shakur also didn’t find it fair that he would be considered the only righteous character. He was fired from the movie after his constant complaints about the role of Sharif. Co-stars throughout the following years recounted Shakur’s non-stop outbursts. After he was fired, Tupac, along with an entourage, stormed a video shoot that the brothers were working on. A controversial physical altercation occurred between Allen and Shakur, which resulted in Tupac spending fifteen days in jail on assault and battery charges.
Lloyd Avery II was originally from Los Angeles, California where he was raised, attended school, and gained his notoriety in films. Although Shakur wasn’t born and raised in California (originally from East Harlem, New York, New York), he fully embraced Oakland and Los Angeles particularly; its people embraced him. Both men enjoyed this state and it helped to propel their careers.
History with John Singleton:
Shakur starred in the late director John Singleton’s 1993 film, Poetic Justice, alongside Janet Jackson. His role was initially going to be played by Ice Cube, but Ice Cube refused the part. Singleton admired Shakur’s acting abilities, wanted him to continue devoting time to acting, and he became the leading man for Poetic Justice. Lucky, Shakur’s character, was a hard working single father who took a liking to Justice, portrayed by Janet Jackson. Shakur was also selected to star in Singleton’s 1995 film, Higher Learning. However, Shakur had been in some legal troubles around the time, studios didn’t want to take the risk of financing the film under the circumstances, and he dropped out of the film. The two remained friends until Shakur’s murder in 1996. In 2001, Singleton’s Baby Boy was released. The film is classic and helped launch the acting careers of singer Tyrese and actress Taraji P. Henson. Singleton wrote the part of Jody with Shakur in mind during 1996, knowing that Shakur would execute the role exceptionally well. The two briefly spoke about the role prior to Shakur going to Las Vegas and Shakur was highly interested in reading the part. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to do so. Avery II and Singleton had been friends for years; Singleton would show his support to Avery II’s family by eating at their fish fries held on Fridays. Avery II appeared in Singleton’s 1991 directorial debut, critically acclaimed film, Boyz N’ the Hood. He portrayed Knucklehead #2. Knucklehead #2, who’s also a member of the infamous Bloods Gang, was known for randomly pulling out his shotgun. He pulled the trigger on a young and innocent Ricky Baker in retaliation from a previous incident. In 1993, Avery II was casted in yet another John Singleton film, Poetic Justice as Thug #1. Thug #1 killed Justice’s boyfriend, Markell. Avery II wasn’t the biggest fan of the film.
Shakur and Avery II both had tattoos that were important to them and the tattoos made statements. Avery II was artistic and wanted to create music as well as films. The Junglez area molded him into a new person. To pay homage to it, he tattooed the word “JUNGLEZ” above his left eyebrow (the tattoo was eventually removed). For Shakur, a thug was about pride, not criminal activity. He redefined a word that typically has negative connotations associated with it. To be a thug means to be a survivor especially in destitute environments. His Thug Life tattoo was displayed in large letters across his stomach to pay homage to his way of life (The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everyone). Thug Life was also a movement for the new generation; it was an extension of the Black Panther Party.
Avery II moved into the vicious Junglez area located in Los Angeles. The Jungle was a hot territory for the Bloods Gang. He wanted to understand gang culture and live the life of a real gangster, despite having other options and not being born into that life. His role as Knucklehead #2 became unshakable. In his 20s, he hung around teenage gang members, followed their orders, and developed a criminal history. This new found way of life landed him in a place that no one wanted to see him in, prison. This stint led to his demise in the form of a satanic ritual. During the 1992 L.A. Riots, Shakur became a vital part of uniting the rival gangs, Bloods and Crips. He would hold conversations with the members to help reach solutions to the issues. He was quite successful by the time he joined Death Row Records. He had albums and a groundbreaking hit, Dear Mama, along with three films. Album, Me Against the World, peaked at number one on the U.S. Billboard Charts and remained in that spot for weeks. It was released while Shakur went to prison for sexual assault charges. Suge Knight paid a $1.4 million bond in order for Shakur to be released in exchange for Shakur “signing” with his label. Knight was the most feared man in the entertainment industry and was also a Bloods Gang Member. Technically, Shakur never signed to Death Row Records. However, he joined the infamous label in 1995. Being that Knight was such a great support system and Shakur was surrounded by gang related activity, this caused him to fall into the lifestyle of a gang member. The rape allegations, which led to his prison stint, along with some of his behaviors on Death Row were contributing factors to his demise. His murder remains unsolved.
Acting out due to premonitions:
Avery II committed a double-murder in 1999 and was arrested within five months for the crime. The night before his arrest, he was very paranoid about his actions, not only the murders, but other acts as well. Avery II was nervous and feared that something bad was going to happen to him. His brother, Che, worried about him as well as other concerned family members who witnessed his downfall. He was very frantic. Even though he didn’t say much, his actions during the time leading up to the arrest showed that his life was going to take more tragic turns of fate. Shakur constantly referenced death throughout his life and music. He said himself that he wouldn’t live for a long period of time (past the age of 25); he spoke his death into existence. Those closest to him can attest to his outstanding work ethic. Shakur worked quickly and understood how precious time was. Shakur would have nightmares depicting his life ending. Shakur knew that he wouldn’t be around for a long time due to his urgency to move at a fast pace and unfortunate previous events. He and his family’s history with the Black Panthers made them all targets of the federal authorities. This could’ve also been a factor in Shakur knowing that his life would be short.
In 1999, Avery II committed a double-murder (victims, Percy Branch and Annette Lewis). When he got into legal troubles, he specifically wanted to go to the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison. During Avery II’s time in the Jungle, he started a script loosely based on his life experiences, then continued the script in prison. The script centered around a character named L.A. Deuce. L.A. Deuce appeared to be a prominent figure in the streets. This character went to jail and was disliked by police officers. They then threatened to “fix” him by sending another inmate to murder him. Instead, L.A. Deuce killed the other inmate and covered the body which wasn’t found until after two days. In Avery II’s real life brutal killing, he was strangled to death by his cellmate, Satan worshiper, Kevin Roby. Avery II had been deceased for at least two days by the time his body was discovered. Roby was already serving three life terms when he murdered Avery II, but he confessed to the murder. In 1993, Ayanna Jackson alleged that Shakur and his entourage “raped” her in a hotel room. Shakur maintained that he was innocent up until the day that he died. After a trial, he was convicted of sexual abuse in the first degree in 1995. Shakur was sentenced to one and a half to four and a half years in prison, but only served a total of nine months. During Shakur’s stint at the Clinton Correctional Facility, he wrote a screenplay about a young man who grew up in ill-fated circumstances. The young man became a notorious drug dealer. The character started to question the life choices he made. The script overall would’ve made viewers of the intended film put their lives into perspective and think about the potential outcomes of their choices. The title of the screenplay was Live 2 Tell.
Avery II had hopes of becoming a rapper and producer as well. He produced Tisha Campbell’s, “Push It” single. He had hopes of sharing his stories through music and wanted to complete a full length album. Living in the Junglez also helped to propel him creatively. Shakur’s contributions to Hip-Hop and his unparalleled lyrical content still captivates fans today including me. When he rapped, listeners could tell that he put his emotions into every word.
Making some changes:
It was easy for outsiders to misunderstand the way Shakur moved. In the hype of the “East Coast/West Coast” chaos, Shakur started to calm down a lot more than people realized (Shakur never viewed the issues with the late Hip-Hop legend, Notorious B.I.G and the Bad Boy Family as a beef). On the set of one of his final videos, All About U, his image changed from the usual attire with Timberlands to a sophisticated suit. He told comedian Pierre that he was tired of the feuding and wanted to show a different side of himself to the world, especially children. Avery II was in the process of getting his tattoo removed before going to prison. He changed the way that he spoke by not cursing and became more positive than before. He devoted his life to Christ and would talk about God to others; he led prayer services at the Pelican Bay State Prison.
Teddy Bears with Big Hearts:
Random acts of kindness were common for these young men because they each had big hearts. Shakur would allow those in need to stay in his home, including the family of one of his closest friends after his friend (Kato) was murdered. He was big on philanthropy and adored his younger fans. Most notably, a terminally ill young boy named Joshua Torres was dying and his final wish was to meet Shakur. On what would become the final day of Torres’ life, Shakur flew to Maryland to see him, spend time with him, and hold him. The image of Shakur and Joshua available on the internet isn’t a real photo of Joshua which is why I didn’t use that image; the young lady in this photo has an interesting story as well and her name is Lemika Early. Avery II reverted back to the man his family and friends knew and loved. While incarcerated, one of his childhood friends committed suicide. Avery II called home to check on another friend, Doran Reed, to make sure he was coping well with the unfortunate loss. Reed appreciated the sweet gesture. As always, according to his mother, Avery II would begin and end all of his conversations with loved ones by saying, “I love you”.
Tupac Shakur and Lloyd Avery II may have had completely different upbringings. However, they shared a few similarities that I thought would be great to highlight. They may have made mistakes and made bad decisions. At the end of the day, they were human. Multiple outside factors affected Avery II and Shakur’s decision making at times. In spite of the negative ways many people viewed them in, they also had very positive sides to them. In my opinion, both men were important to black culture and pop-culture. Their stories were and still are interesting. If you’re ever in a situation where you feel like you literally have no choice but to travel down a low road, at least try to consider other options that can benefit you in the long run.
Lloyd Avery II: June 21, 1969-September 5, 2005
Tupac Shakur: June 16, 1971-September 13, 1996
Rest in peace
Sources and Further Reading/Viewing:
NOV+07_Lloyd_Avery.pdf (squarespace.com) (Shoutout to Thomas Golianopoulos for his Stranger Than Fiction article Lloyd Avery II. The information provided in this body of work has been helpful)
Boyz N’ the Hood/Juice Movie Clips:
Hood Politics, LovelyTi2002, and Celebrity Underrated on YouTube all did great segments on the Lloyd Avery II story. LovelyTi2002’s video discussed the film Boyz N’ the Hood in full detail. She did a full breakdown of where each cast member was in 2017, the film’s 25th year anniversary. Shoutout to those amazing channels. Please be sure to check out their videos, like, and subscribe.
I’m a New Orleans, Louisiana native (age 22: Born May 15, 1999) and I highly appreciate the arts of writing and self expression. I never like to limit myself, so my content may vary by topic even though you may see a series of articles with some similar themes. I hope you enjoy my writings just as much as I enjoy creating the work!