Recently, the national media reported that a group of about 20 white students at the University of Chicago held a straight thuggin’ or “ghetto”-themed party last month. Many black students were appalled.
At this party, white students wore their baseball caps sideways, hung heavy gold chains around their necks, pulled on some droopy pants so their underwear could show, and listened to music by the likes of Nelly and 50 Cent.
The university’s president, Don Randell, went on record to voice concerns that the party will “undermine” the school’s attempts to build stronger ties to the surrounding poorer communities and further isolate black students on campus.
These same students who were offended by these parties were eerily silent during the opening of the new movie “Get Rich or Die Trying” from hip-hop artist Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. This film will likely reach more people and actually contribute to the same stereotypes some found objectionable at this campus party.
If African-Americans are going to complain about every snide remark or racially-charged action made by the likes of these students, then we also need to hold ourselves accountable.
Supporters of the music argue that they are simply telling the story of growing up in the ghetto and are giving a voice to the streets.
The title to 50 Cents’ new movie “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” perfectly sums up the truer intent for bringing these “boys in the hood” stories to movie screens and record shops. It’s about getting paid, not bringing a voice to the hood.
In the film, 50 Cent plays an orphaned child driven into the life of drug hustling by the street dealers who he looks up to as father figures. Actor Bill Duke portrays one, who in one scene 50 refers to as “like a God.” Duke predictably responds “I am God.”
In his feature film debut, 50 is adequate if under-whelming as the lead. Joy Bryant, who plays his childhood friend is pretty but severely miscast.
She comes off as too smart and intellectual to be his love interest. And her rationale for leaving her work as a “successful dancer” to baby-sit Jackson’s nihilistic impulse is never really explained. Additionally, the scene where she seduces 50 in his apartment, reads more like a visualization of one of his rap songs rather than an adequate look into a relationship that’s intertwined with gun battles with Colombian drug lords.
The best part of the movie, no doubt, is Terrance Howard’s performance. He plays Jackson’s prison buddy, who later becomes his bodyguard and manager. Howard played a street-hustler-turned-rap-sensation in “Hustle and Flow,” released earlier this year. He upstages everyone in every scene he’s in.
The direction by Jim Sheridan, whose previous film credits include the Oscar-nominated “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father,” is also impressive. He sets up scenes with the recurring theme of fatherhood quite well. And in the film’s best scene, a life is taken while another is born as the frailty of life on the streets and the fear for the future are excellently depicted.
However, the problem with the movie is the problem with much of “gangsta” rap: it can’t find a way to speak about the lifestyle without glorifying it.
As such, more attention needs to be paid to those feeding the culture a steady diet of negative images of blacks. Who has a more far-reaching impact, a group of unknown kids at a college party, or one of the hottest rappers in the music industry with hit film under his belt?