Review: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed... is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will... save... that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA".
Today my friend Crystal and I went to see Get Rich or Die Tryin' , 50's quasi-autobiographical film debut, directed by In America's Jim Sheridan and written by The Sopranos own Terence Winter. I wasn't expecting much, I mean the only thing I appreciate about 50 is his chest. And sure enough, I was right. The movie was, at best, with my most generous and forgiving attributes in play, average. The only people I can imagine would enjoy this movie are the very young (teenage set) or 50s fans. Of course, Get Rich or Die Tryin' will draw the inevitable comparisons to Eminem's 8 Mile, Eminem's quasi-autobiographical film debut. And the truth is 8 Mile is a better film.
Eminem had a better film, better song and a better performance. And he will inspire more empathy. Eminem's B-Rabbit was much more human, nuanced and made for a better underdog story. Marcus is an underdog too but in a different way. Rabbit elicited more sympathy and affection from his audience:
- He was a white boy living in a predominately black ghetto in Detroit. What horror!!! I'm sure this gave him much sympathy, specifically from his white audience.
- He had a "regular job".
- He had a clear set of antagonists who rattled him at every corner : his mother, her boyfriend, Papa Doc and his crew, his boss to certain extent, etc.
- He took responsibility for his family, particularly his little sister whom he tried to protect amid their dire circumstances. You actually see B-Rabbit telling her stories, protecting her when he's about to get beaten, etc.
- He literally rises to the top based on sheer talent; class trumps race in this story.
- B-Rabbit's goodness is a clear strand of his character throughout this entire story. He is simply a good guy trying to be rapper. He's also very physically un-imposing.
Marcus/Young Caesar on the other hand:
- Marcus lives in poverty, but his poverty is racialized in a way that B-Rabbit's is not and to a certain extent, this works against him because many pathologize black poverty, they are not sympathetic to it.
- Marcus is a drug dealer and people simply don't empathize with drug dealers.
- Marcus had antagonists as well, particularly Majestic, but his antagonists were a part of his drug crew, people he associated with.
- Marcus/Young Caesar rises to the top based on talent and violence.
- Marcus's moral fiber is much more ambiguous; the story doesn't craft him as a traditional underdog. He's a drug dealer, he's shot people, he's robbed people...
- Black men in general, but black men who have a criminal record and are built like Marcus, with those hard jail bodies covered in tattoes are generally feared instead of empathized with; Marcus's physical stature worked against him.
Its important to emphasize that 50 and Eminem grew up much differently in that 50s life was riddled with violence in a way that Eminem's was not (think specifically of the mythology that surrounds 50 --- shot nine times, mother murdered when he was 8, raised by drug dealers) but for an audience this would not necessarily resonate. Marcus is surrounded by violence from the beginning to the end of the film. He really does not change or grow, he just adjusts to his circumstances. 50's character is not one with which people would generally identify with, espcially as an underdog and Eminem's is.
Get Rich or Die Tryin' was also a film, much like 8 Mile and many other hip-hop films, where women are either caretakers or sexual villians. Marcus's mother Katrina was very sexualized (Marcus never know his father and it was intonated that his mother may not have known) and a drug dealer. His grandmother was the consummate tired black woman who took care of children that others couldn't or wouldn't. And Charlene, Joy Bryant's character was the most infuriating of all. She was supposedly a dancer/dance teacher in the film but we never see her dancing or teaching or anything. Literally, her presence is only there in the movie to assure Marcus's heterosexuality. In one of the more infuriating scenes, Charlene is visiting Marcus in jail and its here that she tells him that she's pregnant with their child. Marcus asks her if she's going to keep the child and she states that she is. He then asks her what will happen to her dance career and she says that she can always dance for him. She is neither nuanced or multi-dimensional, she is just there.
This may be a stretch for some but I also felt a tinge of homoerotica in the film, specifically between Marcus and his manager Bama played by Terrence Howard. In the film, there is a scene in which Marcus is attacked by a group of inmates in jail while taking a shower. Bama jumps to his rescue and for several minutes the audience sees a group of naked men slipping and sliding amidst soap, water and blood. At the end of this scene, the men involved are all lying on the ground handcuffed, bloody. Its here that Bama and Marcus make a connection that will last them through to the end of the film, love at first sight.
In essence Get Rich or Die Tryin' seems to be another slate on 50s get rich or die tryin' mantra. He's literally a man who measures his worth in albums and tickets sold rather than quality of material or depth of character. As my friend Jalylah so eloquently stated, 50 would probably consider himself a better rapper than Nas simply because he's sold more albums and has made more money. 50 measures himself on wealth and material instead of substance; he's the ghetto Gordon Gekko.
Combine his focus on materialism with his slam on Kanye West about his Bush comments: "The New Orleans disaster was meant to happen. It was an act of God. I think people responded to it the best way they can...What Kanye West was saying, I don't know where that came from". Clearly 50 didn't see or care about the same footage that I saw on CNN and every other channel on TV. In fact, he would make the perfect conservative, a pull yourself up by the bootstraps thinking kind of guy who would use any method to do so to make it to the top. No excuses. Get Rich or Die Tryin'. You're poor....so what? You're an orphan...so what? You're disabled...so what?
In essence, 50 is man ruled by possessions. This is a film that adds to his resume and more importantly makes him more wealthy. The March 2005 issue of VIBE portrays 50 as a gangsta most notably reminiscent of Al Pacino's Tony Montana. Its this image 50 wants to maintain. He cares about status, money, and power (not necessarily in that order) and women, guns, enemies are just means, amenities, and occupational hazards that are a part of the life. But, may I ask, would a real gangster have never found out who shot him 9 times? Would a real gangster still have that man walking around? Would Gotti have let that slide? Who am I to judge but I will say that 50 will probably get richer and richer still but at what cost?
"I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me" --- Franz Fanon