Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It's hard in Oakland for a pimp

The Hughes Brothers speak the truth: "Oakland is a pimpin' town."

Apparently, the only people who won't acknowledge that truth are in Oakland city government.

Allen and Albert Hughes, most often referred to collectively as the Hughes Brothers (because their last name is Hughes, and they're... well... brothers), are fraternal twin filmmakers best known for their uncompromising depictions of urban street life, as portrayed in their dramatic films Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, and the documentary American Pimp. (The Hughes Brothers also masterminded the comic book adaptation From Hell, starring Johnny Depp as a 19th-century London detective stalking Jack the Ripper.)

The latest Hughes project is an upcoming HBO drama series entitled Gentlemen of Leisure, about a middle-aged pimp struggling with the responsibilities of fatherhood and family life. The series is set in Oakland, and the Hughes Brothers are eager, for the sake of verisimilitude, to film the show on location.

So far, Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland City Council are having none of it. The council has to date refused to approve the Hughes Brothers' permits to begin filming on the streets of Oakland. According to Mayor Dellums, a TV show about pimps doesn't fit his vision of what Oakland is.

Never mind the fact that the rest of the world — including a slew of big-name hip-hop artists from Oakland — sees the city exactly that way.

It's no secret to anyone who follows American popular culture that Oakland is one of the hubs of the hip-hop/rap scene, which has made a cottage industry out of "pimps and hos." (The hip-hop crew Three 6 Mafia won the Academy Award for Best Original Song four years ago, for the song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.") Hyphy, an entire "brand" of hip-hop music and style, originated in Oakland and its surrounding communities. Rap pioneer Too Short, perhaps the biggest hip-hop star to arise from the East Bay scene, built his entire career explicitly proclaiming the glories of the pimping life in Oakland.

The Oakland city fathers may not like that image. It's disingenuous, however, to deny that it exists, or to stand in the way of legitimate artists documenting it.

For their part, the Hughes Brothers have stated that if the City Council won't grant them permits to lens Gentlemen of Leisure in Oakland, they'll move the production to another city, while leaving the show's fictional setting in Oakland. That means another community will benefit from the economic uplift and job creation that follows a major television production, while struggling Oakland will lose out, even as its likeness — for better or worse — is portrayed onscreen.

If you can't change perception, Mayor Dellums, you may as well pimp it out.

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5 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Avitable offered these pearls of wisdom...

I've never quite understood why cities think that by making it harder for a filmmaker or author, they're going to come out of it smelling like a rose. If anything, the creator will be less inclined to go easy on the city!

6:34 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Avitable: I agree with you whole-heartedly. And in this case, it seems particularly misguided. It's not as though the Hughes Brothers are promoting an image of Oakland that isn't already out there. Plus, they'll bring jobs and cashflow into a community that needs both. (Not that any community doesn't, these days.)

11:44 AM  
Anonymous FirstTimeLongTime offered these pearls of wisdom...

Not to go all Cosby here, but it is a shame that so much of the African American narrative in popular culture (especially music) mines the same vein of gangster life, over the top conspicuous consumption, hos and so forth. Maybe a movie that complicates that storyline/cliche (instead of promoting it) with some hard realities is part of breaking that loop? Looking forward to seeing this movie, regardless of where they film it.

2:30 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

FTLT: I concur with everything you've said here, including being eager to see the finished production.

I think Mr. Cosby's a smart man -- about this issue, anyway -- and I wish that more of his younger peers in the entertainment business were listening to him.

1:14 PM  
Blogger KING KELLYO offered these pearls of wisdom...

the mayor wants the city to be like back in the 60's....were YOU see what YOU see...but WE dont see it...and thats how the panthers became as one...they can still shoot in berkeley or emeryville or hayward ...but me i would love to be in the show...im a real life pimp that can tell all what the streets have to offer.....got to www.itspimpin101.net

1:27 PM  

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