Pimps up, Hoes Down!
2 or 3 weeks ago Lafayette Slim let me tag along to Tribeca Film Center's advance screening of Hustle & Flow and a Q&A with Writer/Director Craig Brewer and Producer Stephanie "I sold my house to help finance this movie" Allain. It might have been worse than watching the absurd racist rubbish that was Monster's Ball. I laughed when Halle 'bowed her boy for being fat and fell out in hysterics when he pulled that chocolate bar from underneath his pillow; that was some completely unintential funny ish. But watching H&F was more like watching Diary of a Mad Black Woman (aka one of the many movies that makes me ashamed to be black*) except critics didn't universally laud DMBW. I have read a lot of H&F's bubblegum press and despite my complete lack of faith in any news medium other than The Daily Show I assumed the film had to have some significant merits. It doesn't.
...the movie itself—[ ]is mostly just shameless, crowd-pleasing drivel. Howard burns with old-school charisma, but he's forced to play one embarrassing ghetto cliché after another: a pimp with a heart of gold (i.e., he smacks his bitches, but only when they deserve it), suffering through an early midlife crisis (i.e., he just can't see himself doing the pimp thing into his 40s). DJay's rise to superstardom is a dopey, Rocky-style wish-fulfillment fantasy, replete with musical numbers from the MTV Jams recycling bin. (Sample lyrics: "You know it's hard out there for a pimp / When you're trying to get money for the rent.") And Brewer hasn't quite figured out how to illustrate his lead character's misogyny without exulting in it: The camera gets in close to the actresses' jiggling backsides; the dialogue—including one soon-to-be-famous line about the constitution of a female pig's genitalia—is even more revolting.Christopher Kelly, "The Pimp Who Saved Hollywood: Hustle & Flow and the rise of the "indie blockbuster."
Slate's Christopher Kelly hit the hammer on the head a month ago (I just came across the piece) especially his suggestion that "Brewer hasn't quite figured out how to illustrate his lead character's misogyny without exulting in it." But Kelly's assuming Brewer doesn't want to exult in DJay's misogyny. I am certain he does. F##k it! I witnessed the entire audience of indie filmmakers exult in it. Laughing at all the wrong times kicking my chair in hysterics as Howard cursed out one of his hoes or better yet kicked one and her child out on the street. Listening to Brewer break down his impetus for writing the script and enduring struggle to get this film made, watching the movie's archaic and (increasingly retro chic) position on gender roles and womanhood, watching fellow audience members revel in the films misogyny is beyond disconcerting especially as black female characters are simultaneously at the focus of the films exploitative lens whilst being wholly underdeveloped. Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote the African American experience in these terms, "We wear the mask that grins and lies." This is the curse of Black double conscious subjects but not everyone's invited to this American costume ball. More often than not black women wait in the wings. And before some fool asks why black women would want to wear the cursed mask. We don't but but it's a step up from nonexistence.
With respect to Stephanie Allain I'll just repeat what Slim asked me as the final credits rolled, "Why would she sell her house to make this movie?"
PS-It's never been hard out there for pimps and other exploiters but instantianting this falsehood as fact sho' is evidence of their masterful capacity for privelege-preserving manipulation. Before you assume I'm confusing fact with fiction I'm talking bout folk who pimp as well as those who offer beyond sympathetic narratives of pimperie.
The supremely talented cast of the supremely shitty movie: Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Terrence Dashon Howard and Taryn Manning.
*For some odd reason I thought Craig Brewer was black until he walked into the screening (at which point I asked Slim if he was just lightskinned. Slim proceeded to look at me like I was crazy thus cementing his caucasoid status.) but the shame remains thanks to H&F's plentiful coonery and shuckdom.