Lately, Detroit has been everywhere – especially in the movie theaters. Last month alone, at least three new movies showcasing the heart and history of the city opened, some on limited screens and others at theaters nationwide.
One, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” has been hailed by critics as a must-see movie but has been largely ignored by local moviegoers, who have raced to see the more controversial titles, “8 Mile” and “Bowling for Columbine.”
But while “Bowling,” a documentary on gun violence in America that focuses much of its attention on Detroit and Windsor, has had its share of attention, the controversy surrounding “8 Mile,” the semi-autobiographical and semi-fictionalized life of rapper Eminem, has been ongoing since before the movie premiered Nov. 8.
The movie takes place in the area surrounding Detroit’s 8 Mile Road, and many Detroiters and University students have expressed concern over the film’s negative images of an abandoned city and the people who live there.
In an open discussion held last night in Haven Hall sponsored by the Residential College and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, students and faculty members expressed differing opinions on how the movie represents the area, as well as issues surrounding race, ethnicity, hip hop music and class.
Participants felt split between liking the movie and being disheartened by it. Although speakers addressed the fact that during the making of “8 Mile,” Eminem brought in approximately $10 million to the city, others said they believed he sold it out, depicting it as an ugly place to live.
“I don’t want Detroit to be like Birmingham or Bloomfield Hills. … That’s not Detroit,” American culture Prof. Scott Kurashige said.
Others said the movie, because it takes place in 1995, missed some of the important recent improvements that have been made in the city such as Angel’s Night, a community-based project started several years ago to offset the Devil’s Night fires the city is famous for.
“When I think of Detroit, I think the best thing about Detroit is every Angel’s Night,” LSA senior Brian Groesser said. “On Devil’s Night … everything was burning and people were scared to go into Detroit. But then you had everyone come together.”
Some said that regardless of whether the images were seen as good or bad, it was still important that they were shown.
“It might not be the Detroit everyone wants to see, it might not be the Detroit everyone is familiar with,” Rackham student Charles Gentry said during the discussion, adding that he has seen the movie several times and believes there are some valuable aspects to the film. “I think the big problem that people have with it is that (Eminem) knows how white he is, but he thinks he is black.”
Discussion participants expressed concern over the role they said they believe Eminem’s character, Jimmy Smith Jr., plays in the movie – that of the black world’s white savior.
They also discussed the significance that Eminem, because he is white, has on the real life world of hip-hop. Many said they believed hip-hop to be part of the black culture and wondered how Eminem fits into the picture.
“As I understand it, he is largely a creation of Dr. Dre. … He is, in fact, being produced by this icon of hip-hop,” CAAS Prof. Derrick Cogburn said.
But others said they felt the message from the movie was positive and did not focus on white and black issues.
“The important thing about your character is who you are and where you are from,” Kurashige said. “It’s not just about who you are and where you are from. It’s about the choices you make. There are all these people making different choices based on who they are.”