The following is an open letter written by Maasai Singleton, the son of famed filmmaker John Singleton. Most notably known for his films Baby Boy and Boyz In The Hood. Massai reached out to me via email a few days ago asking for help regarding a Go Fund Me campaign set up to help fund his higher education. Singleton wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps and attend film school at the University of Southern California. However, I thought it was rather odd that the son of a famous filmmaker was reaching out to me to help him raise funds to pay for his education. His father is one of the most prolific movie directors of our generation, why is his son struggling for financial aid? I asked Massai to compose a letter to us and explain what happened and why we should support his cause. -J.
This is a message to all Black Girl Nerds, all nerds of color, and all nerds period.
Twenty years ago, my dad graduated from USC and went to work directing his first film, “Boyz N the Hood”. It changed his life and he became the first African American and youngest person ever nominated for the academy award for best director.
Years later he became the father of a young boy who would cry at the ending of Megaman Battle Network 3 on the Gameboy advance, and whose alienation from his peers was curbed by Yu-Gi-Oh’s assertions of the power of friendship and by the comfort that Spider-man’s alter ego was a nerd like him.
That son was me. Now I’m a competitive fighting game player (#Sm4sh #StreetFighter5 #DarkstalkersAreNotDead), typewriter enthusiast, and Japanese speaker. But the main thing that I am is a writer.
I’m a new generation and a different kind of Singleton. I write things like Dorkly style skits about Pokémon as a food source, Teen Titans Go episodes where Starfire “Supermodels” Lex Luthor’s newest line of war suits, and adventure screenplays about international rap tournaments in Japan. I also happen to study in the same school as my dad and in the same major. I’m a second semester senior.
Well… I’m trying to be.
When I was eleven years old, my father went to court to take custody of me from my mother and he made a promise to my grandfather that he would educate me. It was my family’s one solace in being separated from me. But because of his own weakness to a jealous and manipulative person in his life, my father has decided to stop paying tuition in my last semester of college and to tell me only one month before the semester was to begin. My 78-year-old grandfather was furious. I can see his aged body shaking “He promised me he was gonna educate the boy, and then he’s gonna get him to the door and leave him!!”
I’ve never borrowed anything so I have no credit. My dad told me to take a loan, saying he would help pay it back, but when the loaner told me to reapply with a co-signer, he refused to do it with me. Years of his vindictive court battles against my mother have left her unable to help financially. Scholarship application deadlines were well before he told me I would be on my own and one of many meetings with the school administrators began, “About aid: there really isn’t any.”
The situation was designed to sabotage me. My mother, my sister, and I have always been targets because my mother refused to be used, by the manipulative figure in my father’s life, as a puppet spouse to control him. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Baby Boy”, you might have inferred that “[he’s] got an Oedipus complex”.
My father has an overbearing, manipulative mother who is jealous of anyone else’s happiness. She has sabatoged his past relationships and his growth as a man. And my engagement and plans to marry after I graduate highlight her treachery by contrasting my father and I. (#TheyDontWantYouToWin). At this critical point in my life, when I am 21 years-old and preparing to graduate and start a life of my own, she has finally succeeded in her two decade long quest to drive a wedge between father and son.
It’s like a Hitchcock film where events are so strange no one believes the account of the person experiencing them.
While we are very different men, I’ve managed to learn some good from my dad in the past 21 years. If he hadn’t graduated from USC, there would never have been a “Boyz N the Hood”. Like him, I want to create for my community but my community is different.
My community is this world of geeks and nerds and of the people who don’t see themselves represented in the media because our experiences are so specific. Unlike the message of that song in RENT, a lot of media tries to be “100 people’s ninth favorite thing” at the expense of touching anyone very deeply. Our community will be the deciding factor in whether or not I graduate and am able to tell diverse stories.
I’ve set up a Gofundme with samples of my work as donor gifts and made a campaign video.
Consuming media as a kid taught me ganbaru – the Japanese ideal of perseverance. It’ how anime heroes stay cool and continue fighting while bleeding out. They fight for what they believe in. And that’s the type of man I intend to be. I taught myself Japanese by reading manga everyday and making spatial repetition note-cards of the words I didn’t know. I say all of this to express that my idea of fun is working hard to improve my skills and if this community invests in me, our efforts will not be wasted.
As I said above, anime helped teach me the power of friendship. With all this trouble going on, my friends have stood up for me and given what they can, but there are only a few of us and we know that there are many more like us out there including the fans of Black Girl Nerds reading this now.
The ending of that Megaman game that made me cry intercuts to all the people in the world who are counting on Megaman as he fights the final boss and is near death. It’s a Japanese paradigm like Goku’s spirit bomb in Dragon Ball Z: small units of energy are gathered from every living thing in the world to add up to a massive blast. It shows that we are not great alone.
BGN addresses my niche community, an intersection of identity that is not often given voice. I want to be one of the artists who contributes to changing that. I’d like other nerds to know that I write the kinds of stories WE enjoy, and by helping me graduate, you will be able to say, when my work is produced, that you contributed to that success and to the creation of great content for this community.
Please donate even a little bit to my Gofundme campaign to graduate and leave a comment of what’s nerdy about you.
Together, let’s make an internet spirit bomb.
Maasai Mohandas Singleton