What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, moving on to Cal State Fullerton or a school in that system.
Malcolm’s remark is meant to be encouraging, to spur her on to defying expectations. But there’s also a touch of unwitting condescension, of classism in play in that response. And the vexing thing about Dope is that it’s a coming-of-age tale that won’t let him see that other side even as it insists he’s maturing before our eyes.
The catchphrase, what that was all about, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” that was about the fact that the first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. So when we said that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” we were saying that the thing that’s gonna change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something that you see, and all of a sudden you realize I’m on the wrong page, or I’m on the right page but I’m on the wrong note, and I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to understand what’s happening in this country.
But I think that the Black Americans have been the only die-hard Americans here, because we’re the only ones who carried the process through the process that everyone else has to sort of skip stages. We’re the ones who march, we’re the ones who carry the Bible, we’re the ones who carry the flag, we’re the ones who have to go through the courts, and being born American didn’t seem to matter, because we were born American, but we still had to fight for what we were looking for, and we still had to go through those channels and those processes. – Mediaburn, 1991
By Guest Contributor Naima-Ramos Chapman, cross-posted from Colorlines
In their new music video for “New York is Killing Me,” Gil Scott-Heron and director Chris Cunningham turn popular characterizations of the Big Apple completely on their heads. The video, which was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan last week, has one simple message: it can be a cold, brutal place. But as a legendary artist, Heron’s bitter break up letter with the city has prompted some of hip-hop’s leading players to openly challenge its evils.
In this case, it’s a matter of cleverly mixed mediums that get the message across. Heron’s raspy vocals blend well with Cunningham’s visuals of alternating shots of the city, all in constant, dizzying motion. Subway tunnels, bridges, extreme aerial long shots of the city cloaked in darkness create a menacing mood for viewers. They easily conjure up feelings of destitution and grittiness for a city that over the past twenty years has become largely represented as the entertainment capital of the world.
When I first heard the track, I immediately thought of all the other highly-touted New York anthems. There’s Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and the recent Jay-Z-Alicia Keys collaboration “Empire State of Mind.” Those types of love letters contrast sharply with Heron’s gritty city journal. This is not a song about a glitz and glam New York whose “streets will inspire you.” According to Heron, it’s a lonely, cold, and bare city. For a die-hard New Yorker like myself, the song is a hard pill to swallow but once it goes down, it’s difficult not to sober up and realize how much this city’s inhabitants are hurting.