led you to make HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes?
My experiences working with boys and men around gender
issues from 1993 to 2000 is what initially led me to
the idea of making a film about the representations
of gender in hip-hop. Finally, sometime in 2000, I was
sitting at home, watching hip-hop music videos when
I realized how formulaic the visual representation of
manhood in hip-hop had become. I was also concerned
about the increasing levels of sexual objectification
of women in hip-hop music videos. So I pulled out a
piece of paper, grabbed a pen and started writing the
What impact do you hope the
film will have?
I hope it will get hip-hop fans to question and challenge
some of the hyperviolent, hypersexualized and homophobic
lyrics that that have become so normalized in mainstream
hip-hop culture. I also hope the film inspires young
people to take action and organize their peers in positive
ways to change some of the imagery in hip-hop, and to
challenge the industry that creates some of the more
What are some of the concerns
you have regarding the film?
The film deals with really complicated and sensitive
issues surrounding race, class and gender. Because the
film deconstructs violence, misogyny and homophobia
in hip-hop, which is a deeply black and Latino art form,
I am concerned that white audiences will think that
these issues are simply "black" problems.
I think the film presents a really good opportunity
to get groups across race, class and gender to talk
honestly about how violence, misogyny, homophobia, corporate
culture and race pervades American culture.
What were some of the challenges
you faced in making HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes?
Getting so much information into a 60-minute film. That
was tough. Also, placing hip-hop’s masculinity
in a larger social context, that is, making sure I looked
at things outside of hip-hop, things that also influence
the way we as men are trained to be men. And then there’s
the editing process. The editing process was a major
challenge — editing 250 hours worth of footage
down to 60 minutes (52:30 for the PBS version). That
was also a very difficult phase of the process. Also,
during post-production, my father was diagnosed with
cancer, which devastated me. So there were lots of challenges,
both personally and professionally.
How did you gain the trust
of the people you interviewed in the film—big-name
rappers such as Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, for instance—and
get them to open up on camera? What were some of the
obstacles you encountered while interviewing your subjects?
I had no big secret weapon when I walked into the room
with Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes. I just walked into the
room and gave them respect from jump. I spoke to them
man to man. I think the subject of manhood is a very
intriguing subject for a lot of guys to talk about.
It’s something that I think we men think a lot
about internally, but never talk about how we are conditioned
out loud to anyone, so when I ask the question, “Why
is it so important for a male rapper to prove that he
is hard or tough?” or “How does one’s
’hood’, borough or city or state define
one’s masculine credibility?”—they
find it interesting to talk about. The other thing that
helped me, I think, is that these are guys that I grew
up with. These are guys that I know. Not literally,
but figuratively. These black guys that are hip-hop
celebrities are very familiar to me, because we grew
up in the same generation, and we were brought up a
certain way. So that, I think, led to a natural rapport.
What didn’t get included
in your film that you would have liked to have included?
I wish that I could have included more positive examples
of masculinity in hip-hop. Also, there was a conversation
about Eminem’s masculinity that hit the cutting
room floor. And we also had this great footage and interviews
with Toni Blackman, which we had to cut. I was disappointed
those three things didn’t make it into the film.
What did you want to achieve
with your film?
Well, I am still achieving what I hoped to achieve,
and that is a national conversation focused specifically
on masculinity in hip-hop. How it gets represented,
what it reveals, its impact. This film has gotten audiences
across race, class, gender and age, I might add, to
talk about some pretty complicated issues regarding
gender. Everywhere I go to show the film, audiences
raise really good questions, debate, give testimonials,
provide social commentary that adds to the film, so
it’s been great so far. My big goal was to get
audiences to watch hip-hop videos with a different lens
and listen to hip-hop lyrics with a different ear. I
think the film is doing much more than that, though.
What has the audience response
been so far?
It’s been incredible. The film has been getting
standing ovations all across the country. And I’m
talking across race, which is really interesting to
me. And the really crazy thing to me is that each demographic
that watches the film reacts differently, but in very
important and positive ways. I mean, I think it is a
difficult thing to keep an audience engaged for a full
60 minutes, and this film is doing that.
What do you think are some
of the advantages and disadvantages of framing a documentary
through a personal point of view?
I think the advantage is that you get to speak your
mind. You get to write a huge personal essay on screen.
You get to frame the discussion, and then go out and
find the people to talk about the issues that are important
to you. You also get to go out and prove or disprove
your ideas, which is interesting. And you also grow
through the film project. At least I did. On the other
hand, you are really putting yourself out there in a
way that can be picked apart and scrutinized. You have
to reach deep down and pull some things out that you
weren’t prepared to share, or reveal. Personal
documentaries are really tough, and I swear, halfway
through the process I swore I would never do it again.
Why do you think issues of
masculinity, misogyny, homophobia and violence in hip-hop
have been so rarely addressed? What do you think needs
to change in order for more dialogue on these subjects
to take place?
Because men rule the world and men don’t want
to talk about masculinity. Men don’t want to talk
about sexism. Men don’t want to talk about homophobia,
and men don’t want to talk about why we are so
violent. Most men, that is. And I didn’t either
until I was shown why it was in my best interest to
do so. But, I think more men are starting to question
our socialization process, and are rejecting the script.
When I first started doing gender violence prevention
work, I didn’t know any men who addressed sexism
and masculine identity, other than Jackson Katz. Now,
I know more than 30 men across the United States who
are saying the same things that I am saying about masculinity.
So I do see things changing, and I am glad to be a part
of the transformation. I think more men who have been
silent about sexism and men’s violence against
women and homophobia need to be more vocal, and I think
more men have to be willing to listen. When I started
making this film, I knew I had a female audience. That
was without question. The big question was, how do I
get men to listen without getting defensive? That was
The independent film business
is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
My passion and my faith keep me motivated. I love what
I do. I love making documentaries. I love planning the
whole process out. I love drafting interview questions.
I love logging tape. I love being out in the field.
I just love being a documentary filmmaker. Filmmaking is a difficult business, but I have
been very, very fortunate to receive great mentorship
and financial support. A lot of independent filmmakers
don’t get that kind of support. So I understand
from where my blessings come. I just pray that I can
keep on doing it! Independent filmmakers would die to
be in the position that I am in right now. I am well
aware of that fact.
Why did you choose to present
your film on public television?
I chose public television because I knew that PTV was
the only media outlet that would have the guts to support
this film. No one else in corporate media is courageous
enough to support a film like HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.
What are your three favorite
Color Adjustment by Marlon Riggs, because of its impact
on me as a college student.
Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore, because it was so courageous
Eyes on the Prize by Henry Hampton, because it captures
the Civil Rights Movement in such a powerful and riveting
What didn’t you get done
when you were making your film?
If you weren’t a filmmaker,
what kind of work do you think you would be doing?
I think I would be a college professor.
What advice do you have for
Commit your ideas to paper. Be in it for the long haul.
Be and stay determined. Honor your voice.
What sparks your creativity?
Being black and socially aware in America sparks my
creativity. Also, listening to good music, great hip-hop,
and personal disappointment.
What do you think is the most
inspirational food for making independent film?
Bananas, because you have to be a little bananas to
make documentary films!