Saturday, February 07, 2009

Acting White: America's BIGgie Problem

Most of you know my pre-occupation with the plight of Black people, and you have undoubtedly heard my rant about how Obama is no savior, rather Blacks must save themselves (mostly from themselves). This post is about how ingrained that hurdle has become.

A few weeks ago I saw the movie trailer (embedded below) for NOTORIOUS, the movie about the life and times of the hugely popular gansta’ rapper Biggie Smalls. Biggie was killed in the fashion of gun violence personified in Gangsta'’ Rap. This is the only part of the music industry where success leads to probable death.

I asked a young co-worker, who generally keeps me current on popular culture, if she had seen the movie and she said she had. Her review was that it glorified his short career, and there was some controversy over whether Lil’ Kim, a popular female gangsta'’ rapper, got her full due as Biggie’s love interest, among the many.

Nowhere in her Siskel & Ebert, did my co-worker say that the message of the movie was to stay in school, work hard, and make something of yourself. Instead it was a tribute to a man who extolled violence and who died violently. The fact that he, as with many of these rappers, had cloaked talent only enhances the tragedy.

But what really gets me is the total lack of push back within the black community that a movie about Biggie should be about glorifying the way he lived and died, rather than stating it as its true tragedy, where a black boy/man of abilities chooses a path that extols the worse of black living and sacrifices his life in its twisted glory.

It is this complacency with misdirection that is ingrained in too many blacks. For every teacher, coach, or counselor, attempting to direct a kid to a bright future, two other kids are standing in a long theater line, nine dollars in-hand, to celebrate a light that went out in a hail of gunfire. Biggie is dead, but his big problem is alive and well.

James C. Collier


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Unknown said...

I am so happy someone posted this. I see that on youtube, it seems every 20 something black person has done a review on this movie and exalted Biggie as this wonderful talent with a tragically short life. Never once did they talk about his glorification of all things wrong within the black community.

Blake said...


I don't know if I agree with your reasoning behind not liking the movie. I have my own reasons for not wanting to see the movie, but I can't downgrade a movie for the mere purposes that its not a "stay in school" flick.

Part of what drew me to music like Biggie, Pac, gangsta rap, and hip hop in general is that I could relate to some of their stories, particularly the idea of being a part of America's forgotten, or as Pac called it "America's Nightmare".

Part of the sadness is that we let a large segment of America get to this state, but there is also a beauty in the fact that when given nothing, people like Cool Herc were able to take this nothing and create an industry.

I never expected hip hop to be an infomercial to stay in school. I expect to hear from and about people who can relate to a certain way of living and a certain way of being treated. Stories of how they dealt with it, the glory and the regrets are popular and do much more than tell people to stay in school, they help people adjust to the complications of life.

I relate it to a quote of Dr. King, when he said, "any relition that professes concern for the sould of men and is not equally conerned about the slums that damn their souls and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribound religion only waiting for the day to be buried".

Just replace the word 'religion' with philosophy and you've got an important quote on what rappers like Biggie did that some of the others didn't. I'm not tryin to put Biggie on a pedistol as a world philosopher, but he's a guy that understood the slumming conditions of the ghetto as a 25 year old man, and people (like me) could really relate to his tales on life in the ghetto.

Aight, I wrote too much. Sorry about that.

Black Diaspora said...

"But what really gets me is the total lack of push back within the black community that a movie about Biggie should be about glorifying the way he lived and died, rather than stating it as its true tragedy...."

I'm just not sure that we, as a people, have the capacity for introspection.

Martin Luther King was not generally liked, nor loved, during his life time, by either blacks or whites.

For the better part of his life,
Malcolm X was not the revered historical figure he has become.

Just guessing here: but I suspect that blacks--because black achievements haven't been generally available--will embrace anyone who achieves a measure of success in this society, regardless of how it was achieved.

Invisible Hand said...

While I certainly don't need to see another moralizing black film (I think they make plenty of those... they don't make a lot of money, but they're out there in spades... to use a figure of speech), the problem I had with the movie was that it never treated the whole East Coast-West Coast thing as being senseless. There was maybe a nod here or there to the idea that Biggie and Pac weren't really enemies and that the media made more of the beef than what actually existed, but that's it. There was a tacked on attempt to turn the story into something about Biggie's become a man, but the theme played flat in light of the general misogyny and linear rise-and-fall-of-an-artist narrative of the film.

What really needs to happen is that we as artists, directors, actors, writers and audiences need to embrace black stories outside of the bio-pic. Because when you step back and look at it, it seems that that's what Hollywood is making. I feel that the limits of the genre tend to make it so a lot of these films drift into either melodrama or one dimensional moralizing.

Thoughtful, funny, well-rounded stories from the diaspora are written and ready to be told. That being said, I'll be curious to see Lee Daniel's "Push" when it comes out. I want to see if it's as good as people say and if black audiences will come out to support it.

Lori said...

I'm inclined to co-sign what Black Diaspora stated, Black folks "will embrace anyone who achieves a measure of success in this society, regardless of how it was achieved." Sad and unfortunate, but increasingly true . . .

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this movie, and I have no interest in wasting 1 penny on going and seeing it. I can't stand RAP. Hip HOp is only slightly better. I will take Beethoven any day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Really good post Mr. Collier.

Now what can be done to change the perception that it's a good thing to die like a dog in the street over nothing?

Or that people define who they are by how they wear their pants, hat, shirts, or by how they jazz up a clunker car with multi-thousand dollar wheels and tires and stereo systems to blare vile filthy language that rattles the sheet metal in those clunkers.

And how they spend money on that junk rather than save money for a home or to take care of their families properly.

I have a coworker that brags on how he buys stolen meat from someone he knows and how he buys food stamps from someone else at half price.
He claims that if the time is right he'd have sex with any woman if she appeals to him and yes he's married and black.

I asked him if he doesn't think any of that was wrong in any way.

Any idea what his answer was?

Well a hint. If he thought it was wrong he wouldn't be doing it would he.

Just the tip of the iceberg I am sure.


Beauty Is Diverse said...

I co-sign with Lori.

Anonymous said...

You are so accurate . I have difficult time relating with the movie and trying to decipher it's relevance . This movie is a reflection of sad and true perceptions of black people .They choose to make a shallow gun totting silly rapper as an idol whatever happened to all the other successful blacks in the education and athlete department

lincolnperry said...

I wrote a piece on this film, its shame this what passes for cinema these days...waste of Derek Lukes talent.

Alexandro said...

What most of you are forgetting is that Biggie was a bulldog of a man. Certain people cannot be tamed, most of them are called artists. His music and his image of leading a life of crime was real, the movie was covering a happening. He was an American sensation because of his rebellious attitude. Part of our problem in America is that we shelter kids from the harsh realities of life. Brazil has nudity on public television, we cannot even get away with an edgy joke or two on the news. I grew up listening to his music and getting an excellent adrenaline rush because that is what music is for. I'm a functioning member of society, I don't commit crimes based on a childhood idol. Those kids who do, well they were never meant to be in the real world in the first place. Natural selection!

Anonymous said...

So let anything go and let natural selection sort out the aftermath...

I really don't think you mean that...

Alexandro said...

Well where does personal responsibility come into play?