Rap Battles and Issue of the day Permeate Smart, Funny and Convicting Film
DIRECTED BY JOSEPH KAHN/2018
Director Joseph Kahn, along with Alex Larsen, a writer and actual battle rap champion in Canada’s “King of the Dot” rap league, have developed a story (with Larsen writing the screenplay from their shared story) that hilariously and may I say deftly, addresses cultural appropriation to the extreme with a no holds barred descent into the world of battle rap, called Bodied. It may be one of the smartest scripts of the year, and one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
…a thoroughly engaging film, that is smart, funny, challenging, and convicting… If you have a chance, don’t miss this film.
Adam is all the above, with a girlfriend named Maya (Rory Uphold), a vegan who is for all things feminist. Throw in their Asian friend, their gay male couple friends, and this group spends all of their time waxing poetically about their inclusiveness, calling each out any time a remark could be construed as racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic, or colonialistic.
They look down on the rap lyrics Adam is championing since they believe all rap is misogynistic, with countless examples of belittling women both in action, words, and offense terms. Adam, however, seeks to win them over to the art-form, explaining to them the poetic depth battle rap has for using offensive terms and stereotypes to speak authentically into the culture as a means to change it. This goes over only so far, but its this passion that brings him to a rap battle to meet his hero, Behn Grymm (pronounced ‘Ben Grimm’ and played to maximum effect by Jackie Long), a champion rap battler who sees potential in helping Adam with his theses.
When Adam is called out in the parking lot by another white wannabe rapper, Adam is encouraged into the rap battle ring where he is able to surprisingly put together some good bars (rap lyrics and rhymes) that not only appropriately roast his opponent, but give him street cred with those he idolizes. Soon, he is being asked to enter contests around California with real prize money, and becomes a protege of sorts to Behn Grymm. The further into this rap world Adam goes, the more he transforms into everything he is against, straining every relationship he has to the breaking point.
The film flows with a complexity that is seen in the rap lyrics, fully exposing all of cultural issues that seem to be creating the most tension in our society. Racism, misogyny, stereotypes, sexism, slut-shaming, LGBTQ-shaming, white privilege, nationalism, capitalism, education, politics, and the ideas of what constitutes America are all dealt with and there are no safe sides. Every side is a target with the film even commenting on the ridiculousness of rap battles being a means to deal with such issues while also perpetrating them all.
Producer Eminem is even a target when the film features a line about every white rapper claiming Eminem as the greatest as an example of not being able to give props to anyone who is not-white, especially considering that Rap and Hip-Hop was born in the African-American community.
Joseph Kahn’s background as a music director is an asset to this film that keeps things moving constantly, much like a music video needs to do to tell its story succinctly. The fact that music is a centerpiece of this film also allows him to shape these battles. Each is extremely tight in its editing, allowing for the audience to hear each and every rhyme, insult, and dig, while also featuring poignant commentary from individual characters in the crowd who contribute to the film’s overall subversive message.
This film won’t be embraced by everyone, especially given the shear amount of f-bombs, and all other manner of content, that is presented. It is however, a thoroughly engaging film, that is smart, funny, challenging, and convicting. By the time you reach the final battle, you may begin to physically feel yourself getting angrier and angrier at how far Adam is willing to go to defeat a rival. Fortunately, this film knows how to keep a strong balance of having an impactful and serious message for our culture, and still being great entertainment. It never forgets the real-life stakes a film like this is trying to portray in order to get its message into the culture. Consequences of one’s actions are not something you can escape, and Bodied makes sure that is known in the end.
This is a film that is being produced through YouTube Premium, and as such is still looking for ways to be distributed to markets so that audiences can see it in the theater. Larger markets are likely to see this film first. For those in the Houston area, Bodied opens today at the Alamo Drafthouse in La Centerra and at AMC Studio 30. If you have a chance, don’t miss this film.