September 16, 2008
I am proud to be a part of the Masculinity Project, a project of the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC). Like many other filmmakers who applied for funding for the project, I was required to submit to them three ideas for a short documentary (10 minutes or less) that examined various aspects of black masculinity. Of the three ideas I had, NBPC chose the one that was actually a last minute idea.
The idea for Barack & Curtis came to me the night before NBPC's "Open Call" for proposals deadline. I conceived the short doc just as Barack Obama was emerging as a presidential front-runner. I thought, "Why not create a short doc that discussed Barack Obama's masculinity in a way I had not yet seen." I wanted to make something that was topical, clever, fresh, unique, and off the beaten path. A political junkie, I was intrigued by Obama's rise to political rock stardom. The more I watched Obama stumping on the campaign trail, the more I found his cool presentation of manhood interesting and refreshing. On the surface, Obama's manhood appeared to be the polar opposite of the stereotypical images of black masculinity we've come to expect from Hip-Hop and popular culture.
When I tell people about Barack & Curtis, most people's first reaction is laughter. Or, they'll say, "I know who Barack is, but who's Curtis?" After I explain who "Curtis" is and what the piece is about, people generally say, "Wow, now that sounds interesting. I can't wait to see it!"
"Curtis" is rapper/mogul Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Why would I compare/contrast the masculinity of Barack Obama, an "upstanding" statesman-like presidential candidate, with 50 Cent, a "lowly" gangsta rapper, right? Well, because Barack Obama is THE MAN right now, who is shattering so many myths about black masculinity, and because 50 Cent, who was just named Forbes Magazine's top-earning rapper, currently embodies gangsta Hip-Hop masculinity like no other. Both are successful Black men. Both are rock stars. Both are admired and feared. I thought that juxtaposing the two in a short doc would make for interesting conversations about masculinity.
I'm very happy with the final product, but I have to admit, I wish I could have made a much longer piece. I interviewed a lot of heavyweights who really know politics, gender, and Hip-Hop. Unfortunately, because the online piece had to be limited to 9 minutes and 58 seconds, I couldn't include them all. The final short film only scratches the surface, and is a subject worthy of more time and attention.
The Masculinity Project and Barack & Curtis premiered October, 2008. I want you to see some of the material that hit the cutting room floor, so I uploaded some raw footage clips on my YouTube page.
I hope you'll watch Barack & Curtis online and then forward everywhere. Help spread the word by posting it to your blogs, social networking sites, websites, and listservs. Talk about it with your friends, co-workers, and family.
One final note: Barack & Curtis is in no way intended to create a negative association between Barack Obama and 50 Cent. Anyone who would suggest that misunderstands what my piece is all about. Furthermore, anyone who uses Barack & Curtis to smear Barack Obama in any way, is either ignorant, or morally bankrupt. In no way do I want to damage Barack Obama's historic presidential campaign. In no way am I suggesting that Barack Obama is down with G-Unit or is a gangsta rapper cleverly disguised as a presidential candidate. Neither is Barack & Curtis intended to glorify 50 Cent. Instead, the piece is my attempt to humanize 50 Cent, examine two very different Black men who express their masculinity in two very different ways, and who took two very different paths to achieve manhood, power, and respect.
In the end, I hope Barack & Curtis spreads all over the world over the Internet, igniting a powerful online conversation about Barack Obama, 50 Cent, and the range of black masculinity in between.