Friday, June 20, 2008

Craig Brewer Is Just Light-Skinned

Eager to check out some Blu-ray movies on my new player, I moved some films that were available in that format to the top of my Netflix queue. I wound up with Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan at the same time, only later realizing they were both written & directed by the same guy.

This guy.

As you'll no doubt notice from glancing at his picture, Craig Brewer is white. I wasn't aware of this fact until I checked him out on IMDB. After watching Black Snake Moan (and knowing the plot of Hustle & Flow), I was curious.

I was a bit surprised to discover that he was white, but that surprise grew ten-fold after viewing Hustle & Flow, an excellent movie that realistically portrays the life of a small-time pimp in Memphis trying to break into a rap career.

Terrence Howard deserves A LOT of credit for making that character sympathetic and a person worth rooting for, all while not shying away from the ugly truth about what he does for a living. It wouldn't have been the same without him.

But what raised it from "great performance" to "great movie" status is the range of characters that Brewer created. Djay (Howard) takes center stage, but the film is filled with rich characters whose struggles we can understand and relate to.

Of particular note is Key (Anthony Anderson), a lover of music who gets by doing sound for churches. He wants Djay to be the next big thing so he can go to the top along with him. In addition to helping create the music, he has to work out things with his wife, who isn't so happy about him spending all of his free time with a pimp.

There are plenty of other diverse characters, and of these, only two are white. One is a boy who plays piano at Key's church. He has a real ear for rap even though, as Djay humorously points out to Key, he's white. (And as played by D. J. Qualls, he's the whitest of white guys.) But Key counters that he's just "light-skinned."

Intentional or not, I couldn't help but think of Brewer himself, a white guy who obviously has a real passion for rap. Not just rap music in a general sense, but specifically underground Southern rap music.

This love of music continues in Black Snake Moan. While that film drops a couple of rungs on the believability scale, it's not going for complete accuracy. Samuel L. Jackson plays Lazarus, a retired and depressed jazz musician. He's a predecessor to Djay in a sense, as Hustle & Flow discussed jazz's influence on rap.

It's hard to explain (even the trailer can't fully describe things), but his character finds Rae (Christina Ricci) unconscious in a ditch and takes her in his home. He discovers that she's a nymphomaniac and believes God has put her in his path so that he can cure her. So he chains her up in his house while doing so.

The film feels a lot like A Streetcar Named Desire in that there's a lot of steamy tension and semi-controlled violent outbursts. It just doesn't take itself as seriously.

While having a "half naked white woman" chained in your house might make this sound like a softcore porn, it's actually a pretty heart-warming tale about a makeshift father-daughter relationship. Not to say there isn't any sexual content (You can't just tell us that she's a nympho, after all.), but that's not the point of the story.

Music is again a running theme in the story, though not necessarily the main one. Lazarus begins playing again, which aids in Rae's healing process and ultimately gives him a new purpose in life, thus "raising him from the dead."

Lazarus doesn't have as many facets as Djay (and, thus, isn't as realistic), but the film still has a number of interesting African-American characters.

I can't wait for whatever Brewer comes up with next.

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