Wednesday, May 23, 2012
8 Miles to a Rapper’s Delight on the Big Screen.
Posted by Courtney Small
Recently I sat down and revisited a Curtis Hanson film that I love, but often gets overlooked, 8 Mile. Two things struck me about the film on this particular viewing, the first was how far Michael Shannon and Anthony Mackie have come since their roles in this film. Both actors, who were still relatively unknown at this point, have gone on to be prominently featured in indie films like Take Shelter and The Hurt Locker as well as mainstream films. The second thing that crossed my mind is the lack of films about hip hop. Despite the fact that 8 Mile had a stellar 51 million dollar opening weekend at the box office, which made it the second highest opening for an R-rated film at the time, very few films about the world of hip hop have hit theatres.
Sure there have been several successful dance related films, such as Save the Last Dance and the Step Up series, which use hip hop music as a catalyst to help non-hip hop listener achieve their dreams. However, outside of 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow, both Oscar winning films for best original songs mind you, Hollywood seems at a loss when it comes to films about the hip hop genre. Outside of the two aforementioned films and the critically panned films Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Notorious, which poorly tried to replicate 8 Mile’s success, the majority of films about rap have been satirical comedies.
While films like Fear of a Black Hat and CB4 can still bring a smile to my face, they are hardly films that truly capture the rap infused youth culture of today. Not to mention the fact that they are also lacking the directorial and acting pedigree that both 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow had. Curtis Hanson and Craig Brewer are two skilled directors who knew that the story was not about the music itself, but the people behind it and the way the music impacted their lives. The underdog wanting to “make it big” may be an old formula, but it is one that is rather timeless.
Just look at the amount of rock n’ roll inspired films that have been released in the last twenty years and you will see that the formula is alive and well. Regardless of whether they are films about real-life musicians (e.g. The Doors, Nowhere Boy, The Filth and the Fury, I’m Not There, Control, Walk the Line, etc) or films featuring fictional musicians (e.g. Almost Famous, This is Spinal Tap, Rock Star, The Rocker, etc.) there have been no shortage of stories to tell. However, the rap genre still seems to be an untapped market.
Gone are the days when studios could say “the masses are just not into it” as a look at the Billboard top 50 chart, or an hour watching Jimmy Fallon, will show that the tide has changed. Now I am not saying studios should run out and produce poorly made hip hop films just for the sake of doing it. As with anything, I would rather have them do it well or not at all. Still, as ads for Rock of Ages flood my television screen, and former rappers such as LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Will Smith are receiving praise on both the big and small screen, it just makes me think that Hollywood is missing out on a rather lucrative industry. Oh well, I guess I will just have to keep revisiting 8 Mile to get my hip hop fix on the big screen.