Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hustle & Flow on DVD: The Good, the Bad and the Lord Have Mercy

The Academy Award nomination for the song, It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp by Three 6 Mafia and the subsequent Oscar win gave the movie Hustle and Flow (2005) a surreal presence in American society.
It may be hard out here for a pimp, but it is even harder for those of us who are tired of black movies and music drenched in stereotypes and negativity concerning African American culture. Images of black men as pimps, thugs and drug dealers and black women as hoochies, hos and prostitutes were already haunting us as we slept, yet, the powers that be bestowed one of the greatest honors possible on our nightmares.
While Crash (an outstanding movie in my opinion) won the Best Picture Oscar that yer, the nominated song from crash, In The Deep, lost to the rap song from Hustle and Flow, It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp. At the awards ceremony when Queen Latifah read the winner it signaled the continued damnation for anything good that might come out of black urban communities. While Crash encouraged us think about the intricate connection between race and humanity, specifically how we need each other to survive. Hustle and Flow encouraged us cheer for the redemption of a Memphis Pimp whose life in poverty becomes an acceptable excuse to use prostitutes toward the financial realization of his musical dreams.
As hard as I have tried, I still can’t figure out why this song won. Even a cursory look at the overall messages from those songs that were nominated gives us ample reason to wonder.
The lyrics for In The Deep from Crash tell us that life keeps tumbling our hearts in circles, we have to shed our pride to climb to heaven and even though we may think we have all the answers anything can happen and we can end up swimming or spinning in the deep.
The lyrics for Travelin’ Thru by Dolly Parton from the movie, Transamerica, talk about trying to make the most of life’s journey. Positive phrases abound concerning our purpose on Earth which the song suggests is to learn, make a difference in the world and trust God for direction and support.
The lyrics for It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp from Hustle and Flow tell us all about bitches talking shit, hoes working on street corners, pimps making change off these women, duckin and dodging bullets, getting paid, seeing people killed, and seeing people deal.
I also listened to the music for each nominee and I could find absolutely nothing special about this particular rap song. You can turn on BET almost any time, night or day and hear a song with similar lyrics, a similar beat, and similar images of black men with negative attitudes, thugged out, bobbing and strutting in front of a camera.
Finally, the storyline for the movie itself was not unique in any way either. As part of DJay’s effort to succeed with his music, the movie still offered the usual stereotypical images of black men dealing and pimping, and women, black and white, as sex objects.
In our politically correct society today, I have to add that it is sickening to see how many of the mainstream critics support such problematic images and messages when it comes to African American culture. Bob Westal, Film Threat, called the film “an involving and fun tale of redemption” (FUN FOR WHO?), Bill White, Seattle-Post Intelligencer, said it was “a sensitive low-keyed drama that values human life” (WHAT KIND OF LIFE?), Christian Toto, Washington Times, wrote that the movie “showed even pimps believe in the American Dream” (A TARNISHED AMERICAN DREAM), and Matthew Turner, View London, explains that DJay “makes you root for his character, despite his pimping, drug-dealing ways” (WHAT A HERO!).
Ultimately, I’m concerned about the impact of this thug-rap-pimp-hero’s acceptance in movies like Hustle and Flow. While the audience routes for DJay’s rise the lives of Lexus, Shug and Nola, his prostitutes, become tolerable. Even scarier, we are tempted to buy into the notion of Shug sharing his success as she belts out the chorus of the popular song, until he hits her because she’s not singing with enough soul. And is it possible for us to believe that Nola, his unlikely business manager, finds some sense of empowerment when she manages (we can only imagine how) to get DJay’s record played on the radio during his imprisonment – NOT!
My mother says that I should always try to find something nice to say - so here goes: Terrence Dashon Howard is an awesome actor and he is gorgeous.