A brief trip down your memory lane may jar memories of films like Menace II Society and an almost countless number of cinematic attempts at “Hollywoodizing” the hip hop community. These films and the many others like it set the stage and tone for what was implicitly attributed to being the “African American experience”. I remember seeing Menace in the theaters at 18 and instantly assuming my own impending demise in a drive-by or some other gang-related activity. It is important to note that not only were there no gangs or gang activity in my small town of Hartsville, SC (at that time), but I was also a mild-mannered, college-bound teen whose worst offense may have been the fact that I cursed when no adults were around. However, films like Menace colored my perspective on the world and my place in it.
Throughout the 90’s a slew of films like Menace beckoned black audiences to theaters in droves. Boyz in Da Hood, Clockers, Dead Presidents, Set it Off, Jason’s Lyric, New Jersey Drive and so many others I can not recall became a part of our collective psyche. Young, old, black, white; we watched, cheered, laughed, cringed, and moved in time with the images that “shaped black manhood” (and womanhood in many cases). Even those who had never seen any of these films were influenced by this media-based construction of black (male) culture. For some non-black people, their first experiences with black people was what they gleaned from media.
Gangsta rap music parallels the course and influence of films like Menace, championing the most vile aspects of urban depression and angst. Infectious beats mesmerized minds and bodies responded in rhythm. (Sometimes) clever and visceral lyricism painted vivid scenarios purporting to represent what was real in the streets. Both film and music appeals to our sense of cool. Our society idolizes cool. We reflect the cool that appeals to us. We embody cool.
But the cool can be (and often is) cold and bitter. The cool is often presented without its inevitable consequence. It is in this thinking that I begin my latest endeavor, “If Heaven had Heights…”. “If Heaven” is a multimedia project exploring black male representations in popular media. The works in this series range from paintings and performance to experimental animation and digital video.
I’ve recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for this project and would appreciate your support! There are some great incentives attached to your support – over and above the fact that this is a much needed dialogue. Please join The 15 Project in supporting this initiative and tell a friend: