Black Masculinity: Dueling Images Of Power
JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. Let 's look now at two men, the rapper 50 Cent.
(Soundbite of "In Da Club" by 50 cent)
Mr. 50 CENT: (Singing) All my fancy things, my crib, my cars, my clothes, my...
LYDEN: And the president-elect, Barack Obama.
President-Elect BARACK OBAMA (Former Senator, Democrat, Illinois): I was never the likeliest candidate for this office.
LYDEN: Barack Obama and 50 Cent project very different images, but there is a common denominator: power. Activist filmmaker Byron Hurt is fascinated by those dueling images of power, and he explores them in a short documentary now up on YouTube. It's called "Barack and Curtis," as in Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, who, by the way, topped Forbes's list this year of richest rappers. Like many people, Byron Hurt saw something in Senator Obama.
Mr. BYRON HURT (Activist Filmmaker): I found his style of manhood or masculinity to be very interesting. It was very cool presentation of masculinity. And you could tell that this was a man whose power lied in his mind, his ability to communicate his ideas, and his ability to instill hope and belief in people.
And I wanted to contrast that with someone like 50 Cent, whose - his entire persona is wrapped around his physicality, his ability to intimidate, his ability to control, his ability to exploit women, to make money. Now, I wanted to talk about those two polar-opposite identities, but also talk about the range of black masculinity that exists in between those two.
LYDEN: Now, a British writer, Ester Arma (ph), makes this point about black masculinity in your documentary and how it's been defined through hip hop.
(Soundbite of film "Barack and Curtis")
Ms. ESTER ARMA (British Writer): Gangster rap has begun to shape the definition of black manhood to the degree that it made - certainly, I think, middle-class men lose their place and manhood in the eyes of women. Not in a real sense, but in terms of the media image because everywhere you went, the image of manhood in every form of creative media came out of that 50 Cent mold. If it wasn't thugged out, then it wasn't manhood.
LYDEN: If it wasn't thugged out, then it wasn't manhood. 50 Cent isn't going away. Being dangerous, if you're part of the underclass and flashing your money or your drugs or your control over women, is that going to lose potency as an image of black masculinity?
Mr. HURT: I think as long as there's poverty, as long as there are people who are poorly educated, you know, black men and black women, I think you're going to see that sort of display of personal, you know, flash and personal power.
It'd be really interesting to see if young men of color sort of adapt and change their presentation of manhood in a way that is consistent with what we have been seeing with Barack Obama. You know, wearing suits and ties and displaying their masculinity in a much more cerebral way, as opposed to a much more physically aggressive or any other kind of way. People do identify with power, and I think Barack Obama is this new individual and in many people's lives who represents power, you know, and he does that in a way that's considered to be manly.
LYDEN: And there's another person in your film, Ross Baraka (ph), who's an educator in New Jersey. He says this about American male power in general.
(Soundbite of film "Barack and Curtis")
Mr. ROSS BARAKA (Educator, New Jersey): Power in America is all - again, has always been about aggressiveness, what you can take, what you can control. As long as we survive, the survival of the fittest, that's American manhood, manifest destiny.
LYDEN: So, is this a new kind of masculinity or the resurrection, Byron Hurt, of what you call a more cerebral masculinity?
Mr. HURT: Well, I think Barack Obama's presentation of manhood is a departure from what we've seen over the last eight years and, you know, in George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and it was a much more sort of in-your-face cowboy representation of manhood and masculinity - aggressive, not willing to concede, not willing to negotiate. It's a clear departure from that style of masculinity.
LYDEN: Would you suggest that it's closer to what's projected by 50 Cent than Barack Obama?
Mr. HURT: Absolutely. I think if George Bush was a rap artist, he would be 50 Cent. What he has done in terms of asserting his power is way more damaging than anything any rapper could spew in any hip hop.
LYDEN: Byron Hurt, thanks very much. It's been very interesting talking to you.
Mr. HURT: Thank you very much.
LYDEN: Byron Hurt, his film is part of the black masculinity project from the National Black Programming Consortium. And to see his film and others from the project, follow the link on our website, npr.org.
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