Hip Hop Fridays: Is 50 Cent's Movie The Hard Truth Or Just A Stereotype? By Kamika Dunlap
The urban marketing plan behind today's debut of rap artist 50 Cent's new hip-hop film "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" has reignited longtime concerns in the African-American community about stereotypical images that glamorize violence and exploits them.
The movie billboard ad campaign and storyline, based loosely on 50 Cent's own life as a drug-dealing New York hustler, is a sore spot for many blacks who are frustrated with images that portray them in a negative light. The answer, they say, begins with challenging popular notions while acknowledging hard truths.
"The entertainment industry dumbs us (African Americans) down and desensitizes us to the horrors of our lives," said Biassco, an Oakland rapper and community organizer. "A small amount of people really have any success from the entertainment lifestyle — being a killer, a pimp or a drug dealer."
The poster billboard features 50 Cent in a crucifixion-style pose with his arms outstretched, gripping a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other. Many South Central Los Angeles residents recently organized a Paramount Pictures billboard ban, complaining that it promoted gun violence and criminal behavior.
Because of controversy surrounding the billboard, it was never displayed in the Bay Area. Some Oakland residents, however, say they are still leery of the movie's marketing.
Michael Colbruno, vice president of government affairs for Clear Channel in Oakland, said the company is only running "responsible ad copy" of posters of 50 Cent hugging a baby.
"I think overall marketing to young men and women of color glamorizes a way of life that capitalizes for entertainment companies but never translates for the community," said Favianna Rodriguez, 27, a hip-hop news correspondent for KPFA 94.1 FM Hardknock Radio. "We are always portrayed entertaining white people, sexualized or ghettoized."
African-American buying power across all age groups is $665 billion, according to Target Market News, a Chicago-based ethnic marketing trade publication. Many research analysts also report that African Americans lead the consumer market, which is followed by the urban and general markets.
Carol H. Williams, headquartered in Oakland, is the largest independently owned African-American advertising and marketing agency in the country. Understanding historical sensitivities is key in marketing to ethnic communities.
"We reach out to consumers in a way that's relevant, respectful and meaningful," said Deirdre Haizlip Celotto, group account director at Carol H. Williams. "We also provide a bridge for clients as we try to understand the product and to teach them about the community."
Michael Siegel, director of the Oakland Peace Camp, a creative nonviolence education program, said he would like to see the visual space in the sky, on buses and television celebrate positive images such as teens, role models and mentors.
Places such as Eastmont Computing Center and the Youth Uprising Center in East Oakland help keep youngsters from the traps of formula-based marketing subjugated by crime and violence. The centers provide educational and job training services to youth.
"We need to help kids understand that the money they make grinding (selling drugs), plus the amount of time they spend hustling on their post, divided by the amount of time they serve if busted, is less than minimum wage," said Olis Simmons. "We need to help them realize the skills they have from their illegal job can be transferred to a legal one.
"Adults also have to acknowledge that we have failed our kids, the school system doesn't work and young people are left with no options," she said.
"Young black and brown men are not going to make it out of the game (street life) like 50," said Rodriguez, hip-hop correspondent and activist. "A message that if you try hard you can make it completely ignores an institutional system that is racist."
Tracey Enskip, a junior at Castlemont Leadership Academy, listens to 50 Cent's music and plans to see his film.
"I think some of the street lifestyle in the movie is probably real," said the 15-year-old. "But when we as people of color don't understand who we are, we become the stereotype that everyone thinks of us."
Kamika Dunlap is a staff writer for Inside Bay Area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appears in Inside Bay Area.
Friday, November 11, 2005