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Saying the unspeakable

Filmmaker calls out hip-hop’s latent misogyny and racism
By SONYA TOMLINSON  |  May 23, 2007
CONFRONTATION: Filmmaker Byron Hurt asks the questions at an NYC hip-hop convention.

Former quarterback turned activist Byron Hurt, director of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, brings to light gender-stereotyping views in mainstream hip-hop culture and those perpetuating them, in hopes that light will prove cleansing.
His documentary film, being shown in Portland May 24 by the Boys To Men group (a nonprofit working to help boys grow up to become healthy men, physically, spiritually, and emotionally), investigates violence, misogyny, and homophobia as recurring themes in hip-hop lyrics, and puts everyone Hurt encounters on the stand.

Even as a connoisseur of hip-hop since 1990, I still found new light bulbs going off in my head as I watched this film. There are numerous stereotypical scenarios that arise throughout the film, but it was the response he receives from a group of women that caught my attention most.

At Black Entertainment Television’s “Spring Bling” event, Hurt captures raw footage on the streets of Daytona Beach. A woman dressed in a very, very, mini-skirt appears completely oblivious to the video camera that a man is holding between her legs as she waits at a crosswalk. Groups of women in bathing suits roam the streets and show no reaction to their asses being slapped and breasts being grabbed time and again, as if it is commonplace. It is a visual meat market and the men have no boundaries on commentary or contact.

Hurt reminds us that similar images of women scantily clad and being fondled are found often in hip-hop videos. When Hurt asks a group of women if they are offended by the use of words like “bitch” and “ho” in hip-hop music, one woman responds, “I’m fine with it because when they say ‘bitch’ or ‘ho’ I know they’re not talking about me.” It is this train of thought that says, “Yes, you can continue to insult women as long as it’s not me. As long as I am protected, you may hurt whomever you want.” This dangerously selfish thinking rears its head in several fashions throughout the movie — the idea that somehow it’s not exploitation if it’s consensual.

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes also suggests that America is a hyper-masculine, violence-ridden society and therefore a major contributor to mainstream hip-hop’s controversial content. My first reaction was that this is a vast generalization, until the supporting visual evidence of violence in films, video games, sports, and the military began to stack up. When rapper Jadakiss is asked why he finds it necessary to include violent and threatening lyrics in his songs, his guilt-free response is similar to the woman at “Spring Bling.” “It’s strictly entertainment. As long as no one is really getting hurt it’s straight,” he answers. This shortsighted mentality excludes the responsibility that the music may be the very fuel that takes the entertainment factor to the next level of reality.

Hurt also interviews Chuck D of Public Enemy, who brings up the important point that American youth are desensitized to violence. Their exposure to visual media is so saturated with images of violence and sexual objectification that the sheer power of words gets lost in comparison.

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