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Tue November 5, 2002
...hip-hop is an important cultural contribution even white boys can offer.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Eminem is a "wonder-boy" product of the white-bread underclass of outraged, disenfranchised youths from a bleak Detroit in " 8 Mile." Curtis Hanson directed "Wonder Boys" with the same sense of caring about youths emerging for better or worse into their adulthood. But the star of this film is Eminem, and although it is a fictional story about Jimmy Smith, Jr. (called "Rabbit"), it is a loose adaptation of Eminem's rise from the ghetto of Detroit, on the dividing line of the 8-mile strip separating blacks from whites.
The comparison with "Rocky' is inevitable and not wholly inappropriate. In sports and rap, blacks have proven formidable. When a white like Rocky or Eminem can emerge as a powerful force in either field, the world has to notice, and films have to record and adapt. Eminem's astounding ability to rhyme and chant obliterates all color barriers.
For a white older guy like myself, the gift of "8 Mile" has nothing to do with turning up my nose at the brothers with my own white hope; rather it is the exhilaration of seeing and hearing young people fight with "vocabulary" rather than guns. Rhyme and reason rule. The art form is important as it comments both on culture and creativity.
Director Hanson said, "I saw here an opportunity to make a serious movie about the emotional struggles of contemporary adolescents in this country. This captures the angst, insecurity, frustration and anger, search for direction and identity." That statement emphasizes the teenage universal search rather than the obvious power of hip-hop, to Hanson's credit. The producer, Brian Grazer, also made "A Beautiful Mind," another exploration of genius that transcended math in favor of the search by a gifted human being for a place to be himself.
This fictional biography doesn't claim to be a definitive revelation of the difficult rise of Eminem. It does show the inner struggle of Rabbit to break from the comfort of having a job in an auto factory, similar to Bjork's bleak plant in "Dancer in the Dark," or striking out into creative territory dominated by blacks but promising release from the trailer park where his mother (Kim Basinger) is imprisoned. Lost in this somewhat sanitized translation is the angry homophobia and misogyny so characteristic of Eminem in real life. But gained is the sense that hip-hop is an important cultural contribution even white boys can offer.
John DeSando vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.