In 1991 John Singleton became history's youngest Best Director nominee and the first black nominee in the category when his debut film, Boyz in the Hood, established him as an exciting new voice on par with contemporaries like Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee. Since then, his career has mostly become a parable about wasted opportunity and inexplicable decline. The last film he directed? The Taylor Lautner misfire Abduction.
But Singleton has done at least one good thing for filmmaking in the last decade, producing and financing Craig Brewer's excellent Hustle and Flow, which got picked up by Paramount at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, made $22 million, earned Terrence Howard an Oscar nomination and Three Six Mafia an Oscar win. It also got Singleton a deal to producer two more films for Paramount, budgeted at $3.5 million each and intended for more emerging filmmakers to get the chance for their first films to be distributed by Paramount.
Neither of those films were ever made, and now according to The Los Angeles Times, Singleton is suing the studio for $20 million, claiming they didn't just fail to get around to making the films, but "they just kept thwarting my efforts to make any of the movies." Here's what he said to the Times:
"I could have sold Hustle & Flow for more money to someone else, but Paramount promised something special — giving me the ability to make two low-budget films with young filmmakers and great talent. All I've ever done is make money for Paramount. I've lived up to all the deals I've signed and it should work both ways."
Paramount, for their part, puts up the fact that Singleton directed Abduction for Lionsgate as evidence that he too had moved on from the deal, and insists that "his claims have absolutely no merit." Presumably the next step in this drama will unfold in court, and in the meantime we all have to wonder what would have happened if Singleton had gotten to make those movies. Would they have been small-budget gems like Hustle & Flow? Would they have at least been better than Singleton's own 2 Fast 2 Furious? Singleton may have passed by his days as a filmmaker worth watching, but as a producer he seems to genuinely have good ideas and the best interest of emerging filmmakers. Whoever's at fault here, it's a shame this huge opportunity didn't pan out.
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