John Singleton: Where to Stream the Director’s Six Best Films

Where to watch: Rent it on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube.

From the beginning of his career, Singleton was compared, and not always accurately, to Spike Lee. But “Higher Learning” feels very much like Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” — both cases of an African-American filmmaker, after two features mostly focusing on people of color, tackling the potentially incendiary topic of race relations (and writing his first important roles for white characters). Singleton sets his story in the melting pot of the contemporary college campus, intermingling the journeys of three freshmen (Omar Epps, Michael Rapaport, and Kristy Swanson) up to their eventual, explosive intersection. It was his most ambitious film to date, and remains one of his best.

Where to watch: Rent it on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube.

A sprawling historical epic, told with an overwhelming fury and sorrow, “Rosewood” indicated that we’d only begun to see Singleton’s gifts as a filmmaker. Telling the true story of the 1923 massacre of an all-black community in Florida by a white lynch mob, Singleton orchestrated a complicated period production and a huge ensemble cast (including important early roles for Don Cheadle and Ving Rhames), without losing touch of the story’s humanity and tragedy. Writing for the “Times,” Stanley Crouch called it “Mr. Singleton’s finest work” adding that “it moved the Afro-American experience into the kinds of mythic arenas in which John Ford cast his work.”

Where to watch: Rent it on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and YouTube.

The idea of Samuel L. Jackson playing the screen icon John Shaft (his nephew, technically) in a sequel/updating of that blaxploitation classic was so delicious Singleton could’ve just pointed his camera at Jackson for two hours and called it a day. But with the help of a witty, literate script by the novelist Richard Price (“Clockers”), Singleton put together something far richer: an exploration of the complexities and hypocrisies of contemporary crime and policing, fleshed out by a rich supporting cast, including Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale as the picture’s villains. Their presence and odd-couple chemistry creates genuine, unexpected tension; we know the hero will prevail, but not easily.

Where to watch: Rent it on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube.

After the big-budget (and contentious) production of “Shaft,” Singleton made a conscious effort to go back to his “Boyz” roots for this small-scale 2001 drama. He tells the story of Jody (Tyrese Gibson), a 20-year-old man stuck in a state of arrested development: Unemployed and unmotivated, he still lives with his mother, even though he has a child of his own. “Baby Boy” makes for an appropriate bookend to “Boyz,” casting a more critical eye on Singleton’s young male protagonists, while still acknowledging the social structures and peer pressures that keep them down. And Singleton’s sharp eye for casting was still in place — in addition to Gibson (in his feature debut), the film offers early performances by Taraji P. Henson, Mo’Nique, and Omar Gooding.

Singleton completists will also want to check out his later films “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Four Brothers” and “Abduction.”

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