All thinking people seem to agree that Crash’s best picture win is a grandiose folly, either another in a long, sturdy legacy of terrible movies with aspirations to social significance that win the big prize, or a even worse still, a sign that there simply is no appreciation or understanding anymore of what makes a movie function. Nattering, infinitesimal matters like structure, coherence, character, plausibility, visual uniformity, technical ingenuity. All that went out the window when Haggis threw together his in-the-nighttable-drawer-since-1977 treatise on race relations, cast La Bullock, shopped it around to some low-level festivals (er, marketplaces), sold it to Lions “never met a hacked-off limb it didn’t love” Gate, and saw it sat on and finally released in the Hollywood dog days of spring. There’s almost something lovable in the dumb-ass populace’s embrace of Haggis’s self-congratulatory liberal fantasia, in which no one emits a single word that isn’t a defamatory remark about another race, or shows a single recognizable human emotion outside of what the script contrives for them. Yet what Crash-heads (lol) and Crash-bashers can seemingly both agree on is: “Wasn’t it effing cool that that pimp song from Hustle & Flow won? Man, at least they got that one right!”
Okay, well, maybe when compared to that twangy Transamerica song sung by a woman in a Kabuki mask and matching corset or the Aimee Mann rip-off from Crash accompanied by a chorus of slow-moving multicultis emerging from barrel fires so crass that, even after seven martinis, Debbie Allen couldn’t have dreamed it up, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” seemed refreshingly…tuneful. Yet the blind acceptance of Hustle & Flow’s hard-won vapidity and everyone’s willful ignorance of its rampant misogyny (much like most of white America’s exoticized, giggly embrace of a great deal of hip hop), translated to an easy win for the song, as well as for the a-tad-overrated Terrence Howard’s nomination. What is Hustle & Flow supposed to be about exactly? Living the dream, I suppose–whatever the hell that means. The film is muddled and pointless, and I’m willing to leave it alone, yet when it becomes an award-reaper, a la Crash, then there’s something even more rotten here than in the state of Lars von Trier’s Denmark.
Terrence Howard’s woman-beating, gun-toting pimp is really a soulful musician going through a self-proclaimed midlife crisis who just wants to pluck ditties on his Casio. Especially pernicious is that scene detailing (preposterously) the making of the Oscar-winning tune itself: pregnant, terrified Taraji P. Henson’s Shug begins to sing the lyrics written by and valorizing her thuggish owner into the mic in the makeshift living-room studio, and finds her true “soul”and identity. Indeed, the film, written and directed by the white Craig Brewer, seems to be saying that all black people need to do in order to climb out of the ghetto, is find their inner entertainer. And yessir, Hustle & Flow sho ‘nuff entertained the whites on Sunday night, with the Three 6 Mafia really going at it for a smiling appreciative Nicole Kidman, a grooving Heath Ledger, a roof-raising Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Crash may be a disastrous time bomb of hypocrisy (every character in the film, by virtue of having no inner life, just coiled rage and hate, ends up embodying the very same values the film purports to decry), but at least many seem to be onto its tricks. Hustle & Flow on the other hand, just here to put on a show for y’all, has been casually accepted, its best-song award cheered as a wacky black anomaly. It’s actually a perfunctory hip-hop tune used to prop up an irredeemably demeaning character in a piece of useless escapism. The music is fine, the context is repugnant, the response is suspect. Queen “I Ain’t a Bitch or a Ho” Latifah’s excitement at opening the envelope was particularly shameless. Like everything at the Oscars last night, and like every moment of Hustle & Flow, it was grandstanding, solipsistic, and soul-deadening.