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Bodied is a new film all about battle rap, and that means it's going to draw comparisons to that other movie about battle rap, Eminem's 8 Mile. That movie came out 16 years ago and a lot has changed, both with battle rap, and with the culture at large, in that time. I recently attended a special screening of Bodied at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco and watched the film about a young white guy getting involved in the bay area battle rap scene. Considering that basic similarity between Bodied and 8 Mile, in a Q&A following the screening, director Joseph Kahn was asked about what made Bodied different from its predecessor. According to the director, because of way culture has shifted, the question of whether a white guy should even be allowed to battle rap is one worth asking. According to Kahn...
Back then the question of 8 Mile was, 'Can a white guy rap?' And that was a legitimate question we hadn't seen it Eminem came on, right? Can it be legit? Can a white guy rap? 16 years later, in the world today, with all the cultural appropriation dialogue, all the fucking race shit going on, Trump stuff. The question now, in this movie, is 'Should a white guy rap?'
Bodied follows white Berkeley grad student Adam who is investigating the history and use of the N-word in battle rap as part of his graduate thesis. In doing so, he actually becomes a battle rapper himself, and one who is instantly a topic of conversation if only because of his skin color. Though his knowledge of poetic verse and solid vocabulary that comes from his education makes him a formidable battle rap opponent.
Rap was born from the black community and as such has largely been performed only by black artists. While there have always been rappers of different ethnicities, they had rarely become stars in the way that Eminem did in the years before and after the release of 8 Mile. The film was loosely based on his own experience as an up and coming rapper.
However, while 8 Mile may have answered the question about whether or not it was possible for white people to rap, as Joseph Kahn says, the new question is whether or not it should be allowed to take place. The topic of cultural appropriation is a hot-button issue today. Does a culture lose something when other cultures begin to take on aspects that were once exclusive to that culture? If rap music is an art form that belongs to one culture, should other cultures leave it alone and allow it to remain part of the black identity?
It's a pretty heavy question, but that shouldn't make you think it's a heavy movie. While Bodied doesn't shy away from serious topics, it approaches it all through humor and battle rap. In that context, it tackles other serious issues, such as the prevalence of racist and sexist language traditionally used in rap.
Battle rap isn't exactly a topic that gets dealt with a lot in movies, so there's certainly enough room in the world of cinema for another battle rap film. Joseph Kahn doesn't shy away from the comparison, Eminem actually helped produce Bodied. Joseph Kahn has directed some of the rapper's videos. There's clearly no battle between these battle rap movies.
Bodied arrives in theaters on November 2.