Let's be clear. Get Rich or Die Tryin', the semi-autobiographical movie that tracks the life of gangster rap icon Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson from street thug to musical superstar, is not going to send young Blacks sprinting from the theaters to commit murder and mayhem in their neighborhoods.
It's a movie, and there's no smoking gun connection between violence on the big screen and bodies in the streets. Still, Get Rich and the horde of other boys-in-the-hood movies that Hollywood has churned out over the past decade again raise troubling questions. Why do a handful of influential rap entrepreneurs, who are rich and famous beyond their wildest fantasies, brand themselves with a criminal, thuggish image?
Do films such as Get Rich promote and, at their worst, reinforce the ancient thug stereotype of young Black males? And why — despite White fears that young Blacks are the ultimate menaces to society — in almost all cases, are the victims of the thug-acting rappers other young Blacks?
The first is easy to answer. Get Rich will reap a king's ransom at the box office from exploiting the violent, outlaw image of Black life. It will boost the sales of Jackson's records. Legions of rebellious young Blacks and non-Blacks will happily cough up mega-dollars to revel in this image.
Films like Juice, Straight out of Brooklyn, Menace II Society, Boyz in the Hood and Poetic Justice, that also purported to give a raw look at "the hood," glorified violence, glamorized gangs and ignored poverty and racism.
Black critics blame Hollywood for this. And why not — it's a soft target. Most studio executives know nothing about life in "the hood." And as long as they can turn the thuggish image of the ghetto into dollars, they don't want to know.
Then there's the question of the violence. The self-destructive violence of some young Black males — such as pre "50 Cent" Jackson — is explained by reflexively pointing fingers at the tumultuous and self-indulgent world of rap music.
It has been a violent world. In the past decade, the rap landscape has been littered with rappers such as Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Nate Dogg, Naughty by Nature, Ghostface Killah, Heltah Skeltah and convicted perjurer Lil Kim's crew, who have been assaulted, murdered or run afoul of the law. They exult the bad actor lifestyle and play hard on the us-vs.-them volcanic rage of many young Blacks.
But Black-on-Black violence is hardly an invention of rappers. In the last two decades, murder has been at or near the top of the list of the leading causes of death for Black males under 25. This is the age group that will pack the theaters to see Get Rich.
Their assailants were not White racist cops or Klan nightriders but other Black males. Their death toll has soared because far too many Americans still don't get too excited about Black violence as long as it doesn't spill over the borders of the ghettos into their suburbs.
Many Black males are engaged in a seemingly eternal desperate search for self-identity and esteem. Their tough talk, swagger and mannerisms are defense mechanisms they use to boost their esteem. They measure their status or boost their self-worth by demonstrating their proficiency in physical fights, assaults and, yes, murder.
Some Blacks even cite a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes and abuse, to excuse the violence. These explanations for the mindless violence that thug-acting rap entrepreneurs engage in are phony and self-serving. Many of the rappers who have landed hard in a court docket are also anything but hard-core, dysfunctional poverty cases. Yet the internal rage that propels them to commit thuggish acts still lays dangerously close to the surface.
Get Rich or Die Tryin' may be one man's tale of redemption, but it also exults the criminal violence that has cost the lives of many Black men like 50 Cent. That's a hell of way to try to get rich.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for BlackNews.com.