|A talented but
pimped-out Terrance Howard stars in John Singleton's latest
flick, "Hustle and Flow."
Please, Save us from the Pimps
SeeingBlack.com Editor and Film Critic
about these movies and Black film issues! Click here.
Will somebody please save me from all these pimps?
As much as the new, much-hyped film, "Hustle and Flow"
is a quality, textured drama about the struggle of one down-and-out
man in Memphis, it is also the latest film, video or music, dripping
with hip-hop appeal, which asks our sympathies for a lifestyle that
degrades women. It also asks that we, at least temporarily, share
the pimp's view of women, and his vision of what it takes
to "make it." As the regretful refrain goes in the film's
signature song—it's hard out here for a pimp.
Many rappers, such as 50 Cent, along with some pop stars such as
Kid Rock, have promoted the pimp lifestyle with titles such as "Po
Pimp," "The Great White Pimp," "Pimp of the
Century," "Pimp Talk," "Chart Pimp," "Definition
of a Pimp," "Pimp Your Paper," "Pimp My Girl,"
"Guerilla Pimpin," "Early Morning Stoned Pimp,"
"Big Ol Pimps," "Pimp Arrest" and, finally,
"Pimp Story Street Talk, Vol. 1." Some artists even take
on the moniker for themselves: Skinny Pimp, Pimp Daddy Nash, Pimp
C, Evil Pimp, Pimp Black, Pimp Daddy, Geez Pimp, Star Pimp and Pimp
With all this focus by the hip hop music industry on men who manage
prostitutes, it is no wonder that Hollywood sees potential dollar
signs with "Hustle and Flow," and, perhaps more importantly,
equates the pimp and prostitution lifestyle with urban African American
Films of this genre, starting in the 1970's with "The
Mack" and "Dolemite," always focus on and glorify
the pimp. The female prostitute—along with her hard-core realities
that often include AIDS, drug abuse, child prostitution, mental
illness, sterility and death—are swept under the rug in the
service of keeping the narrative flowing and pimp-centered.
Popular documentaries on the subject, such as "Pimps Up, Hos
Down" and "American Pimp," keep us centered in an
almost worshipful tone that focuses on the pimp's colorful
street names, such as Bishop Don Magic Juan, C-Note, Gorgeous Dre
and Mr. Whitefolks. Cameras offer a sweeping view of their full-length
fur coats, lime green gator shoes, gold rings the size of paperweights,
gold chains heavy enough to tow your car, and, of course, limousines
and fancy cars—even if that silver Rolls Royce is actually
only rented for the evening (or filming).
In "Hustle and Flow," we are guided into the world of
prostitution by the talented and mesmerizing Terrence Dashon Howard,
who turns an ordinary film into an exceptional one. In contrast
to the pimp image of yesteryear, Howard's DJay lives in a
jainky house in the hood in Memphis. His three hookers, Lexus, Shug
and Nola, live there with him, as a sort of family with DJay as
the provider, protector and manager. DJay drives a beat down car,
his clothes look barely washed but he does enjoy one of the benefits
of pimpdom—getting his hair curled and styled with a hot iron.
But don't be fooled, the essential pimp-hooker relationship,
master and servant, is still in full effect. DJay's eventual
migration to music—and his attempt at rapping—puts his
years of pimping on par with the legal hustle of the music industry.
It's all a hustle, the film suggests to us, and the connection
to hip hop, which has renamed women as female dogs and prostitutes
anyway, feels like a natural and dangerous fit. This pimp, with
his sexy determination, is made more socially acceptable. And besides,
he takes his ladies along for the ride to seeming success—Nola
as an impromptu business manager, and Shug as a love interest and
background singer. It is hardly remarkable when DJay strikes the
pregnant Shug, urging her to sing her silly song hook with more
soul. When, in a fit of anger, he puts Lexus and her infant son
out of the house, the scene is rendered with some comedy, as director
Craig Brewer shows us that the mouthy, domineering Black women is
once again put in her place.
It may be hard out here for a pimp but it should be. It's even
harder out here for those of us, who work hard at all kinds of jobs
that we never see on film, who are asked time and time again by
big media to embrace a pimp and hooker lifestyle as who we are.
Esther Iverem's forthcoming book is Living in Babylon
(Africa World Press).
— July 22, 2005
2001-05 Seeing Black, Inc. All Rights Reserved.