Player Hating: A Love Story
How can a middle-class, white woman review a film about the hip-hop, projects, poverty and violence, without sounding judgmental and terribly sheltered or worse, guiltily apologetic? I guess the same way filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West shot the film, by allowing the people to tell their own story. In written form that would translate to sharing what I saw while viewing this film.
In watching this documentary (set in the Albany Housing Projects in Brooklyn) which chronicles the life of 26 year old rising hip-hop artist “Half-a-Mil” (aka Jasun Wardlaw) prior to the release of his first album, I saw people whose lives start with pain and violence and more frequently than we’d like to believe, end with a bullet. Far from the glamorous and slick world depicted in many movies and TV shows about “thug life”, this film affords if not a glimpse, then an uncomfortably long gaze into the unvarnished reality of the projects and the people who inhabit them.
In this particular world, survival means hustling and hustling often means violence. Wardlaw is offered up as a hope for something different. While he tries to move up (if not out of “the hood”) we hear from his colorful band of assorted friends, hangers-on and associates – most of whom die over the course of the film. They matter-of-factly confess or even boast of drug deals, stick-ups and murders. And yet we hope for them. We watch the film and hope that Half will make it big and take his crew with him even as we learn of their deaths.
My heart broke as I watched a young boy explain to Hadleigh-West how he wasn’t scared when his cousin woke him up one day by putting a gun in his mouth, his forlorn eyes betraying his macho-sounding message. His father, recently out of jail, looked on proudly.
Hadleigh-West was given a remarkable level of access to a world the average American will never see or experience. This film is an unlikely and loving tribute to those people and that hidden world. Viewers of this film won’t be given any easy solutions or answers but perhaps they will start to question. -Ms. Ash-
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