“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Jan 20, 2003
8 Mile, the movie starring rapper Eminem, has been out in theaters for some time. The film provides a fairly realistic picture of life in Detroit and an interesting look at the rap music scene. Eminem plays Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith, a white working class young man who is gaining a reputation in the local rap scene. Rabbit runs with an integrated group of friends, including two black friends who have hopes to make it as promoters in the rap industry.
Early in the film we find out that Rabbit has just ended a romantic relationship and has to move home to live with his mother. His mom, played by Kim Basinger, lives in a trailer park on the north side of Eight Mile Road. Eight Mile is known in Detroit as both the physical and symbolic dividing line between the mostly black city of Detroit and the suburbs to its north, most of which are predominantly white. His mother has a young daughter, has no job, and lives with a young guy from the neighborhood waiting to make it big through a cash settlement from a car accident.
When Rabbit is not rapping, he works in a stamping plant in Detroit. The film provides a glimpse of life in the working class through Rabbit's struggle to hang on to his job at the plant, which he has difficulty getting to because of his unreliable car and the inadequacy of public transportation in Detroit.
The movie also presents a picture of the rap scene, as Rabbit takes part in "battles" at a local night club, which are the verbal equivalent of boxing matches. Rappers compete in a kind of tournament, in which the goal is to insult one's opponent and his friends in the most creative manner and to win the loudest response from the audience, what used to be called "playing the dozens." Naturally, with Rabbit being white, there is a certain amount of racial tension surrounding him and as a result between his friends and those of other rappers.
To some extent, the film touches on class solidarity; for example, when Rabbit and his friends burn down an abandoned house where a young girl was recently raped or when he defeats one of his rap "battle" opponents by pointing out that he went to school at Cranbrook, an exclusive private school in one of Detroit's wealthiest suburbs. At the same time, the film promotes the idea that the hope for people like Rabbit is to get out of the working class by "making it" as a professional rap artist.
Unfortunately, the film makers (including Eminem) didn't demonstrate much solidarity when they burnt down the house in Highland Park Michigan to film the scene used in the movie. Highland Park, so desperately poor it can't even provide fire service, let them do it for a few dollars, despite the protests of neighbors. Left behind was another burnt out building on top of those that already exist in that city.
The film is also inconsistent in its treatment of women. It shows some sympathy with the situation of women, as when it shows the abusive relationship that Rabbit's mother finds herself in. On the other hand, the rappers express negative attitudes towards women.
Anyone considering seeing the film should be aware that the film contains a fair amount of offensive language.
The movie shows that this form of music which came out of urban black neighborhoods has pulled in white working class kids who share some of the same problems. But it is also reminiscent of what happened in jazz with white musicians receiving most of the attention for musical forms created by black musicians. It's the consequence of living in a racist society.
With these reservations, 8 Mile is a film worth seeing.