Cultural Appropriation, Assimilation, and Acculturation
Cultural appropriation refers to members of an overriding culture taking elements belonging to a minority for their own individual use. As a result, there is a possibility that the original context of the culture might be reduce or in extreme cases, completely distorted. The main reason for this alteration is the action taking these elements without knowing their cultural significance. Cultural acculturation is a process of psychological change that occurs when two distinctively different cultures meet. The dominant culture prevails and changes are observed in attire, food, and language. Alternatively, cultural assimilation entails a minority groups absorption into a dominant culture in a bid to secure their survival.
Hollywood has not been left out in their depiction of assimilation and appropriation. Over the years, the film industry has seen the production of movies with these two themes featuring greatly to bring to light a rarely discussed subject. In particular, appropriation is viewed in negative light as it is perceived as the total disregard of what the original version of a culture stands for (Scafidi 70) . Two films where the theme of appropriation features prominently are 8 Mile (2002) and Feel the Noise (2007). A comparison of the two films, their main characters and situations seeks to offers an insight into cultural appropriation and how it can directly affect an individual’s success in life.
8 Mile is a 2002 film by director Curtis Hanson centered on the story of a performing artist in the Hip Hop genre. The main protagonist, a rapper by the name Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr. (played by rapper Eminem) is struggling to launch and assert himself in a music genre where African-Americans prevail. Albeit White, B-Rabbit struggles through life to his poor family background. He is a blue-collar worker and because of his meager earnings, is forced to move back into the family trailer which he fondly calls home. He now has to share this new abode with his sister Lily (played by Chloe Greenfield) her boyfriend Greg (played by Mike Shannon and Stephanie (played by Kim Basinger), his alcoholic mother. Although a victim of self-doubt, Jimmy is fully aware of his potential as a musician and starts working towards it his dream by entering late night rap tournaments. It is at this point that the film now starts tackling the theme of cultural appropriation.
The rap-battle scene sees the two street rappers amass in a dark club. They are ready to battle each other before an uproarious black crowd, each allotted 45 seconds. It is at this point that B-Rabbit eliminates two wannabe rappers with expert precision, the crowd picking him as winner. The scene also features his apex where he comes face to face with Papa Doc, African – American rapper, and tension fills the vista. All are keen to hear the lyrical skills that he will use in his attempts to obliterate him. In the course of the fits round, he is immediately accused of appropriation. Papa Doc asserts that B-Rabbit has never been through any form of social struggle (Grunitzky 94). B-Rabbit retaliates by presenting his struggle to the audience by describing his struggle as a white rapper.
“Using the rhetorical strategy of anticipation, Eminem calls attention to his
own whiteness in the context of complaining about critics’ focus on it. Eminem
extends this strategy in 8 Mile, where he counters attacks on his whiteness by beating
his opponents to the punch. In a pivotal scene, Eminem’s character B. Rabbit wins an
MC battle against a black opponent, Papa Doc; he first anticipates attacks on his
whiteness, then turns the crowd’s attention from race to class as he reveals that Doc
attended private school and has well-off parents and a supportive home. In effect, B.
Rabbit silences his critic’s attacks on his credibility by acknowledging his own
Whiteness, then challenging Doc’s own performance of a ghetto blackness which does
not fit with his biography…..” (“Hip-Hop Realness and the White Performer”)
Furthermore, B-Rabbit exposes Papa Doc’s lack of Hip Hop authenticity owing to his sheltered upbringing with all the luxuries that such a life offers and winning the approval everyone at the end.
Feel the Noise (2007) is a film with an interesting plot as art as cultural appropriation is concerned. Rob (played by Omarion Grandberry) hails from Harlem, New York and struggles to make a name in the Hip Hop scene. All his efforts bear no fruits and he is constantly failing in this quest. In addition to his failing rap career, he is constantly getting into trouble with the local police and gang leaders. Things take a turn for the worst when he unsuccessfully tries to rob a local thug. The opening scene features Rob at a club trying to enter stardom by engaging in a rap battle. The club is well lit, and he engages his opponent in a bid to prove his lyrical prowess. The crowd is however not pleased with his alliterative technique and some are even of the opinion that he should quit altogether. His appropriation of the Hip Hop genre seems not to work for him, and this is where a dejected Rob leaves the discotheque headed home to sleep his sorrows away. No sooner is he out of the discotheque, than a gang member ready to avenge his stolen rims shoots him. To escape retribution, decision is soon reached that sees him sent to Puerto Rico to be housed by his long-estranged father. In Puerto Rico, he now has to learn to cope with living with his father Roberto (played by Giancarlo Esposito) his wife and Javi (Victor Rasuk, his stepbrother. It is through his stepbrother, a renown turntablist, that he soon discovers a new genre; reggaeton (Nicklas and Lindner 33). By delving deep into this new discovery he soon begins a musical journey that sees him reconnect with his culture. A critical scene in the movie involves Rob and his father engaged in a poignant conversation on the reason why they had been apart all along. Roberto soon reveals that he was a drunk and on one occasion, crashed the family car. He was sent away by Rob’s mother and even had to give up his music career in New York City. It was during this reconciliatory scene that Rob also learns about his fathers musical aptitude, an act that also drives him towards reggaeton. He now has a new outlook in life and now decides to follow his musical dream with in a genre that was a part of his Puerto Rican heritage. By deciding to stay true to himself and sticking to his culture, he is able to overcome all obstacles and even gets a chance to perform in the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, delivering an electrifying performance.
The Hip Hop music genre is seen by many as an extension of the African-American culture and a medium through which they communicate their struggle to the rest of the world. The narrative of the typical African American rapper is that of struggle, with a rags-to-riches story that reinforces their authenticity (Strang and Busse 30). When other races enter this scene they are often met with resistance. White rappers who identify as Hip Hop artists have experienced criticism from African-American MCs who view them as “culture vultures” whose only goal is to appropriate the Hip Hop genre and feed off it. White rappers such as Eminem and Vanilla Ice have been victims of such criticism. In 8 Mile (2002), the plot tackles the theme of appropriation by telling Eminem’s personal story.
‘‘in terms of both class and race, 8 Mile portrays Rabbit as an ‘oppressed minority’. Watts identifies the film’s message as, ‘‘[W]hile it may be ‘easier’ for white rappers to have commercial success, it is very difficult for them to get respect’’ This statement confirms Eminem’s lyrical commentary about the larger racial structures at work in hip-hop..” (“Hip-Hop Realness and the White Performer”)
His character B-Rabbit has to battle an African-American rapper who accuses him of coming from a privileged background and only immersing himself into Hip Hop for selfish gains. He, however, counters this attack by revealing his struggles and even goes ahead to exposes his opponent (Papa Doc) for being a fraud. It emerges that Papa Doc hails from well-off supportive suburban family and even attended private school, nothing compared to the trailer-park home and hard life that his opponent. Eminem is presented here as an “oppressed minority” seeking to earn the respect of his peers in the midst of a complicated racial structure. On the other hand, Feel the Noise (2007) presents the story of an individual who lacks exposure to his culture. Away from his father, Rob appropriates the Hip Hop culture in a bid to make a name for himself as rapper. However, this doesn’t work in his favor as he gains no recognition. It is only when he moves to Puerto Rico and is exposed to reggaeton that he forges a connection with his culture, and is soon able to make a name for himself (Young 40). His authenticity can be drawn from him deciding to pursue a genre from his own culture and soon thrives in it.
In conclusion, cultural appropriation is a reality present in our society. The Hollywood film industry is aware of this phenomenon and seeks to discover the truth about appropriation by giving accounts of musicians who struggle to gain recognition in different genres. However, it is important to note that pertinent questions can be raised as to whether one is appropriating a certain culture, or if they are simply following a genre that they identify with. 8 Mile (2002) gives a glimpse into the life of a Hip Hop artist accused of appropriation, but soon reveals that Hip Hop is a genre he identifies with and his authenticity drawn from his struggle. On the flip side, Feel the Noise (2007) tells the story of Rob, who appropriates the Hip Hop genre, a move which does not benefit him. It is only when he goes back to his Puerto Rican roots that he starts making headway in his musical journey. Both films offer lessons of being true to oneself in the quest for success in life.