John Singleton brings L.A.’s ’80s drug scene to life on FX this summer.
Twenty-six years ago, director John Singleton exposed the world to the realities of South Central Los Angeles with his Oscar-nominated film Boyz n the Hood—a tale of three African American boys plagued by gang violence and the overflow of cheap crack cocaine. Now Singleton, 49, returns to the not-so-small screen with Snowfall, which premiers July 5, to follow the rise of the crack epidemic in the early ’80s that changed Los Angeles into an urban war zone.
In what ways is Snowfall autobiographical? “Being from Los Angeles, my life changed in the early ’80s when the crack game started. This show is like the prequel to Boyz n the Hood. It shows a time when people didn’t have bars on their windows. Then things started to get crazy. Gangs began taking over selling crack in different territories. It turned into a deadly war over money.”
How is the process for TV different from film? “With television shows you have to find actors who people want to watch over and over again. I hold the same standard for directing television as I do my films. I want this to be the ghetto Game of Thrones because everyone loves re-watching the episodes of that show.”
How did you make the show as authentic as possible? “We talked to so many different people from the community who lived during that era. And I myself was a huge resource for this project! I focused on what outfits people wore then, what shoes, and especially what music they listened to. At that time, hip hop was only on the East Coast, and Los Angeles was into soul—we were listening to the Gap Band and Chaka Khan. I tried my hardest to keep it as accurate as possible.”
Tell us about some of the characters. “I wanted to show that what happened to LA was broad and affected many people—not just the black community. We have a white guy who is a CIA agent, a Mexican wrestler who is an immigrant but still trying to find his way, and a young black boy who is bussed to school in the Valley, where he eventually learns how to sell crack. All of these characters were greatly changed by all this, and it’s great that we get to see their stories.”
How would you sum up the show? “I hope the experience will be like when someone first sniffs cocaine. I want viewers to become as addicted to it as soon as possible… Seriously, it’s going to be like nothing anybody has ever seen before.”