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Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Rap Music

By Spencer Moon

Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Rap Music (2006) 60 minutes, documentary. Directed by Byron Hurt.

This was my favorite film at this year's Atlanta Hip Hop Film Festival. The film deconstructs the misogyny and posturing of contemporary hip hop music videos. The prowess, integrity, depth of understanding, and personal nature of this film marks it as something extraordinary. Included in the deconstruction of contemporary hip hop images of this new century are rappers, cable television executives, music producers, young people who consume the music and consume the images, and scholars.

When the film is over, there is great relief. Relief that finally there is some help for young people in deciphering the overwhelmingly negative images being consumed by their young minds--young people who are unable to decode both conscious and subliminal messages. This film goes a long way to opening doors of understanding in that regard. In its thorough and thoughtful examination of hip hop music in the context of American masculinity and sexual mores, you have the beginning of what can be called conscious cinema at its best.

According to the website for "God Bless the Child Productions" (director Byron Hurt's production company), the 35-year-old, "anti-sexist activist/lecturer," and documentary filmmaker is also:

"…a former college football quarterback and long-time gender violence prevention educator"

"….one of the original members of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), the leading rape and domestic violence prevention initiative in college and professional athletics"

"….the former associate director of the first gender violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps"

Beyond Beats and Rhymes has been selected to screen this month in New York City as part of a special presentation sponsored by the Sundance Film Festival. Over 7,000 films were submitted to this year's Sundance. Out of 122 that screened during Sundance, only 13 were chosen to be part of this special screening. Beyond Beats and Rhymes will also screen on PBS during the 2006-2007 Independent Lens season.

An Interview with Byron Hurt

This interview was conducted with Byron Hurt two days after the film screened at the Atlanta Hip Hop Film Festival. Hurt was in town to visit with family aside from the festival screening.

What inspired you to make the film?
BH: The work that I was doing with boys and men around gender violence.
The issues of masculine identity were part of that equation. As a hip hop fan and someone who listens to the music, I became acutely aware of some very disturbing messages about masculinity and hip that I wanted to examine, explore, and deconstruct. A real epiphany came one morning when I was watching BET (Black Entertainment Cable channel). It was then I decided I was going to go ahead and make the film.

How long was the process of producing this film from concept to completion?
BH: I first conceptualized this film in 1997 but, I did not write a proposal for funding until 2000. I received my first funding in 2001. I finished the film January 6, 2006.

How much money was spent and what were the funding sources?
BH: I raised over $300K from ITVS (Independent Television Service/PBS)
and NBPC (National Black Programming Consortium/PBS).

What has the response been to the film thus far?
BH: The response has been incredible. This is a film that is really making people think. Most of the time when I show the film, people want to have a conversation about what they've just seen. A lot of people tell me that his film expresses what they've been thinking and feeling for a very long time.
I think that there is a real audience for this film. There are a lot of people who identify with this film. I think there a lot of people who are wondering what we can do about the images we're seeing in main stream hip hop right now.

What format did you use for production?
BH: I shot this in digital video with SONY equipment.

What is your response to being chosen for the New York event?
BH: I'm very excited, I can't wait. I think there will be an excellent turnout. I think it will get a lot of people to talk about the film. I'm very pleased that they selected my film, I'm honored. This isn't something that happens to every independent filmmaker. It's really an honor.

What are you goals for the film?
BH: My goals for the film include having an educational component to the film: to have it shown in high schools, youth centers, juvenile detention centers--to have the film seen by the broadest possible audience.

What advice do you have for young filmmakers?
BH: Follow your passion. Commit your ideas to paper first. Develop your story and then go for it. Find a way to get the funding. Raising the money is half of the battle. If you really want to make a film, you can do it. You have to be really determined and focused. Talent is obviously a big part of being a filmmaker. A lot of it is just sheer determination and will. You have to make a commitment that you are going to make the film no matter what your obstacles are.


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