Monday, June 20, 2005

Hustle & Flow...

I was having a discussion with my wife last night (by the way, today is our thirteen wedding anniversary), and we were talking about the Sundance sensation, Hustle & Flow. If you don't know, Hustle & Flow is produced by John Singleton with $3 mil of his own cash, and stars Terrence Howard, an actor who if he'd decided to marry Tom Cruise, would have been given the publicity he deserved. Instead, he simply does excellent work without the publicity machine less deserving actors receive.

Hustle & Flow is about a Memphis pimp who has a midlife crisis and ultimately decides to become a rapper. Badabing, people were clamoring to get attached to it, and eventually Singleton sold it for $9 mil, tripling his money. But here's my problem. The movie comes out in about two weeks. But don't care if it is good, I don't want anymore black pimp, hoes, and gangster films. I'm not going to write them, see them, or eventually produce them. To me, Hollywood and the music industry loves to view Black life as a sort of perverse fetish, where the deviant people live and survive, without the constraints of morals or common decency. White America, in particular, gets a perverse sense that they are seeing the "real" black community when they watch films like Hustle & Flow, just like they think they're getting a "ghetto commentary" when they listen to Jay-Z. That would be fine if there was some balance to what people saw of blacks on film. If you were able to see upper, middle, and lower class black on screen, then proper perspective could happen. But instead, there are only a few ways for black films to get on wide release, and celebrating perversion is one of them. I think Italians are another group that has a similar beef as black folks with the constant depictions of them as Mafia members.

So the question is what do we gain when a Hustle & Flow gets made, praised and released. Do we get an onslaught of similar films? Probably, because Hollywood loves to copy, no matter what the genre. And some will say that that provides ops for black writers. That's probably true too. But count me out. I look at writing as a beautiful choice I've been given, and a wonderful opportunity to provide art (and get paid as a commodity). But none of that is worth having work on my resume that makes me cringe, not because I knew how it would turn out after I started, but because I knew I shouldn't have taken the job in the first place. I want to build a legacy. And legacies come in two flavors: good and bad.


Dr. Mon said...

I just saw a clip of this movie for the first time yesterday--your post answers some of my questions about it. I guess we all have the right to tell or own story--sadly we know which stories sell best. Unfortunately, there will always be those who buy into and perpetuate these images of Black Americans. Those of us who do not buy into these images must continue to be willing to create counter-narratives--to challenge these images and show the greater diversity of what it means to be Black in America. I applaud your work for that. Those of us who do not buy into these images must also do a better job in supporting each others' work. Another acclaimed film at Sundance (last year?) was Shola Lynch's documentary of Shirley Chisholm--I was so glad to see this film go to DVD and appear in stores everywhere. Finding (and creating and maintaining) that balance to "what sells" is important.

Happy Anniversary to your and your wife--may you be blessed with many many more years together.

Lawrence said...

I saw the Shirley Chisolm and talk about eye opening! I made me look at Willie Brown and Ron Dellums (both Alphas of course!) a little differently.

I think we're going to have to start cultivating an active black movie going audience, and I think my ideas of movie clubs are the way to go. Black filmmakers, particularly indies, can create a network of movie goers who discuss their films, both positive and negative. I can't remember if I published my own personal film manifesto, but if I didn't I'll publish it later. We need to have guidelines to create film that avoid stereotypes, expands the art, and then elevates the medium so that others are inspired. That doesn't mean a whole bunch of "blacks are all good" movies, but movies with complex characters, balanced stories, and moves beyond what we know a lot of white studio (and black studio) execs want to see.

Thanks for the wishes by the way!