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Social Studies

Pandering to the Positive

By Vincent Williams | Posted 8/3/2005

Hustle and Flow is the best movie Iíve seen this year. Itís about a pimp who tries to become a rapper, and it features the best performance by Terrence Howard Iíve ever witnessed, which is saying something, considering Crash is still fresh in my mind. Hustle and Flow is one of the best depictions of the transcendent power of art and, in particular, hip-hop in the lives of people who donít have anything else. And Hustle and Flow has turned me into one of those people that I hate: yet another person bitching about the lack of positive images of black people.

First of all, I never really knew exactly what ďpositive imageĒ meant. I mean, your average Morris Chestnut/Shemar Moore glorified Harlequin Romance flick features black folks wearing suits, sporting college degrees, and having real impressive jobs, but thereís shuckiní, jiviní, and overall bad actiní. Yet, since theyíre wearing the suits at the jobs that you need the degree for, somehow they get a ďpositiveĒ pass. I think thatís idiotic.

On the other hand, when thereís a textured, well-rounded, nuanced performance thatís deemed ďnegative,Ē that negativity tends to overshadow it in a lot of circles. To this day, half the brothers I know have never watched Halle Berry in Monsterís Ball. And say what you want about the nudity and the sex scenes, Berry brought her ďAĒ game in a way that sheís never repeated. Likewise, while Denzel Washington should have been nominated for an Oscar for Malcolm X (and Philadelphia and Mississippi Masala and Hurricane), his role in Training Day was a brutally and beautifully wrought creation that could stand with all of those others. Like Monsterís Ball, I know lots of cats who havenít seen Training Day and grumble about the ďnegativityĒ of the role. Now, if you wonít watch Training Day or The Wire because of negative depictions, but youíre cool with Diary of a Mad Black Woman because those folks are positive, letís just say we donít see eye to eye.

So, you know, I was cool with Hustle and Flow. Like I said above, itís a brilliant film. I was into it. I was touched and moved. I felt DJayís frustration like it was my own. I found myself humming the songs as I walked to my car. And I cheered for DJay. But the more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off: Why did he have to be a fucking pimp? Like, I would be watching it and seeing his existential crisis and feeling it, and then he would do some pimp shit wití da bitches and, yíknow, he loved da bitches, but they were still da bitches because, yíknow, he was a fucking pimp!

After Beat Street, 8 Mile is my all-time favorite hip-hop movie. I love it because it has an almost documentary level of detail into the true culture of hip-hop. Dudes work dead-end jobs and scribble in their notebooks as they ride the bus, and they battle each other in ciphers. Thatís hip-hop as Iíve seen it. Iíve watched cats write in those marble notebooks since I was 14 years old. And, as Rabbit, Eminem reminds me of the dozens of aspiring MCs Iíve known over the years. He works somewhere to pay bills and his mom doesnít value what he does and he loves his kid and he does the best he can. I have to admit, though, that every time I watch it I think, Why canít Rabbit be played by Nas? And I didnít think that because I have something against Eminem, or even because I think all MCs should be played by black guys. But in the back of my mind, as I heard people like Regis Philbin and Katie Couric rave about the film, I suspected that Nas could never be cast in such a noble depiction of a rapper. Only the white guy gets to be clean and pure in his aspirations.

Yíknow, Iíve seen Terrence Howard talk about this role in a bunch of interviews, and he always says that he went out of his way to not glorify the life of a pimp. And I have to say, if thereís one thing I left Hustle and Flow with, itís that it really is hard out here for a pimp. DJay didnít have the clothes or the cars, and having three women around wasnít a fantasy. So, yeah, it is hard out here for a pimp. But heís still a fucking pimp, and you know what? Itís also hard out here for a barber. And a mailman. And a cable guy. And a bunch of other dudes who want to succeed as MCs. Just onceójust onceóIíd like to see their story.

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