Friday, March 17, 2006

Say it like you mean it, "We're In Charge!"

Last night, I finally got around to seeing Hustle & Flow, and I am so sorry it took me so long. As happy as I was with the Oscars choice of Crash as best picture (I don't think I ever agree with them, but I can be pleased with them--and I take issue with Stephen King who oversimplified the movie way too much in his newest Entertainment Weekly column), Hustle & Flow deserves it more than any of the contenders. What it does brilliantly, which I think is at the heart of what needs to happen when we talk about politics in America, is that it manages to illustrate how class and race work together and separately in dividing America, and, most importantly, it finds its glimmer of hope without prettying up any significant aspect of the picture.

Where does the hope remain at the end of the movie? It's not in the system, which pits the successful against the unsuccessful. And it's not in the virtuous individual--everyone's morally pretty tangled here and our protagonist's weaknesses are tied so closely to his strengths that there's no certainty he'll survive his stint in prison much less whatever's waiting for him on the other side. But it does lie in the dream, the vision--a vision voiced by DJ Qualls, a geeky white kid who firmly believes that everyone has a right to contribute their verse to the future, and a vision that ties Anthony Anderson's "middle class" future to our family of protagonists. The real hope lies in the women, played by Taryn Manning (Nola) and Taraji P. Henson (Shug), who hold things together and keep the dream alive.

Proverbs 29: 18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." It's an often repeated refrain in the Bible, and perhaps it is as close to the central lesson of the Bible and any other religious scripture. We have to be able to see something worth living for in order to live a life worth living. It's harder than it sounds, and I think it's something most of us struggle with every day. A friend of mine commented not long ago that my blog was depressing, and that threw me for a loop because I don't see it that way, but it also made it clear to me that vision is the thing we all need to come back to time and again.

No doubt the best thing I've seen that's been written about Hustle & Flow was written by Kevin Gray, a South Carolina political activist and a contributor to Holler If You Hear Me, the blog that more or less dragged me into this little experiment in the first place. His essay has just been reprinted at Black Commentator, and I think it does a much better job than I'm doing suggesting the political significance of this movie as well as a vision of how we might begin to change the dynamics that suspend all of us in some aspect of the struggle defined by the movie.

To put it simply, the apathy and despair people feel about the politics of our society are rooted in the reality that the system is designed not to work in the interest of the individual, or the little guy, but in the interest of wealth. The end to apathy and despair comes with accepting the fact that the real hope lies in the prisoner talking to his prison guards about their hip hop ideas at the end of the movie, the prostitute taking charge and pimping her people's music to whatever radio stations she can reach--each person finding a role that contributes to a larger social revolution where our talents are welcomed and nurtured because they are helping to unlock the potential of others. In many ways, the music industry (for instance) works in the exact opposite way today--talented people are a threat to less talented people with position and fans who promote the music for free are sued for working outside of the industry's control. (The RIAA can call it stealing all they want, but the industry doesn't care about stealing--it's done that for years; it does care about who's doing the "stealing.")

Anyway, last night, after the movie, I was heartened to read an article by about the U.S. Social Forum's plans for regional social forums to take place this summer. 60 organizations, including "The Ordinary People's Society from Alabama, the Miami Workers Center and the Mississippi Workers Center, as well as the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, Black Workers for Justice from North Carolina, the Homeless POWER Project from Nashville, the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger and the Atlanta Metro Task Force for the Homeless" plan to meet this summer to make a regional plan for next year's national U.S. Social Forum conference. Their vision? "Another South is Possible" Their strategic goal? To build a movement for social justice like nothing this country's seen at least since the Civil Rights Movement.

In their despair, people ask me all the time why there is no movement to actually change things in this country. Here are people laying the bricks. Why not get in touch to lend a hand?

As DJay and Nola say in Hustle & Flow, "We're In Charge." We are. And the sooner we join hands at the wheel, the better.


Kevin Gray's great piece on Hustle & Flow can be found here--

More about "Another South Is Possible" can be found here--