Wednesday, November 02, 2005

as gangsta as i wanna be

i want to start this with some photos:

the figure on the left is familiar to most, curtis '50 cent' jackson; former drug dealer, attempted homicide victim, and superstar rapper. on the right, jim sheridan, the director of such acclaimed films as 'my left foot,' 'in the name of the father,' and 'in america.' the space between their backgrounds is an ocean, literally and figuratively. sheridan grew up in dublin while fitty, in the grand tradition of hip-hop, constantly reminds us that he grew up in the 'jamaica' queens section of new york. sheridan grew up with a father who directed for the stage and spent his early years immersed in the theater scene of dublin before moving to new york and directing for the stage and screen. fitty lost both parents at 8, apprenticed to the drug trade at an early age, did jail time, started to rhyme, got out the game, got shot nine times for gettin' out the game, then went platinum six times over
this unlikely creative partnership bears its fruit this weekend in the form of 'get rich or die tryin.' fitty makes his motion picture debut in the film directed by sheridan, which draws mostly from the rapper's life for its story. sounds familiar, doesn't it? hot young rapper, critically acclaimed director, loosely based on said rapper's life story...can anyone say 'cool as ice?' (ha...vanilla ice...that's a whole other story though.) the similarities between 'get rich or die tryin' and '8 mile' abound. there's something disconcerting about fitty's participation though, while eminem acting doesn't seem like much of a stretch. first of all eminem, for all his prodigious skill as an m.c., will alway occupy an outsider's place in hip-hop, the white man on the black man's throne. also, every persona he embodies seems to be an act (slim shady, marshall mathers, eminem,) albeit an impressive one. ultimately, his ascendance from dr. dre's psychotic white boy sideshow to the reigning figurehead of hip-hop holds a place as one of the greatest constructions of character ever, ranking alongside ronald reagan's transformation from B-grade actor into Ronald Reagan: the steely,conservative savior on a white horse, and, oddly enough, dustin hoffman's transformation from michael dorsey into dorothy michaels in 'tootsie.'
fitty, however, presents something entirely different. he gives physical form to the archetypical gangsta rapper. if there were an interview it would go like this:

Q: "have you ever sold drugs?"
Fitty: "yes. many, many times."
Q: "have you ever been shot?"
Fitty: "yes. many, many times."
Q: "have you ever been to jail."
Fitty: "yes. many, many..."

you get the idea. with his menacing scowl, prison-cut physique, and resume, fitty embodies the gangsta ethos: money, power, respect, bitches, hoes, endo, chrome 4-4...i'm not sure about the order. after becoming quite possibly the most famous attempted homicide victim in new york city though, something clicked, and he let out more of himself; the sly, dangerous charisma, a disarming sense of humor, and a willingness to smile about the fact that he just made the biggest hustle of his life. it was only a matter of time, really, before hollywood and all its old white men came cashing in.
so they make his life into a movie. it's really an amazing story when it comes down to it and for the most part fitty keeps it as real as a guy who makes videos for mtv, endorses reebok, and dated vivica a. fox can. then they pick a white guy from dublin to direct it. no, not that white guy from dublin, but jim sheridan.
jim sheridan is a fine director, an excellent director actually ('in america' is one of my favorite movies of the past five years.) but why ask an old white guy from dublin to direct a movie about a 26 year old black kid with a rough past from queens, new york? to lend it credibility to an older, whiter audience (you know, fitty's biggest fans.) the whole thing reeks of sell out and what perplexes me is why fitty, who has called out amongst others for being fake, phony or otherwise not as gangsta as he: fat joe, ja rule, jay-z, kanye west, his own protege the game, and todd bridges (okay...not todd bridges...that would be a sweet fight though...todd bridges would probably straight whoop his ass...the man was desperate enough to rob a liquor store once.) would not fitty find it ungainly to have an ancient white man from dublin direct his debut picture; let alone one based on his own, actual life?
apparently not. yet another case of hollywood winning out over verisimilitude. friday we'll get a glossed over, glorified story of gangsta redemption and triumph. fitty, like em, will stand proudly on the stage at the end, looking into the camera with his gangsta- scowl, perhaps sneaking in one of his now trademark 'fuck-all-y'all' smirks to sneak out and the picture will fade. the audience leaves and then we cut to a smoky penthouse in a glossy high rise building where sumner redstone, 82, owner of viacom, parent to mtv and paramount and jimmy iovine, 52, head of interscope light cigars with fitty and the g-unit as they pat them on the back and smile darkly at one another. 'get rich or die tryin'? not likely once you're in hollywood's gilded walls fitty, might want to change it to 'get rich and help old white men get even richer.'


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