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A hard-hitting documentary on hip-hop that asks why it often shows black men as violent sex addicts who abuse woman is sparking debate among a generation of young people raised on rap videos.
In Beyond Beats and Rhymes, filmmaker Byron Hurt, a former college football quarterback, goes on a journey of discovery around the United States, challenging hip-hop artists and record producers in the multibillion-dollar industry.
The documentary, due to be aired on national PBS television on Tuesday, has been screened to dozens of audiences of young people and students, said Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon, the film's coproducer.
Most critics of hip-hop argue that it shows women as sex objects, but the documentary focuses on images of hypermasculine men and says black youths fall into the trap of trying to emulate the thug life of the videos.
"We are hoping to...challenge that narrow, destructive vision of masculine identity, particularly for young men and boys that are the faces of hip-hop," Schmidt-Gordon said in an interview. "They are the ones who are dying young from gun violence, and women are victims of domestic violence. Our communities have the most to lose by buying into violence and sexism."
One scene shows protests by students at Spelman, a black women's college in Atlanta, against artist Nelly, whose video for "Tip Drill" showed him swiping a credit card along the backside of a nearly naked woman.
Another scene shows wannabe rap stars in the street outside a hip-hop summit in New York vying with each other to produce the most insulting and demeaning rhymes.
As hip-hop has turned into a blockbuster industry with sales soaring among whites, pressure has increased on black artists to produce music based on sex and violence, according to artists such as Chuck D, interviewed in the movie.
At the same time, students said there was little debate about the content of the music or videos, ironic in a medium that flourishes on wordplay.
Students from black colleges at a screening in the Florida state capital, Tallahassee, last week said the documentary was an eye-opener.
"I had never thought about how black males were being dragged down by the degradation of black female sexuality in hip-hop," said Ashley Matthews, 20, of Hampton University in Virginia.
Matthews said she had watched rap videos on the Black Entertainment Television channel nearly every day since she was 12 but had recently overcome what she described as a "near-addiction." "BET is very entertaining," she said. "That's the reason why you don't think anything is wrong with it."
Ronald Clark, 20, said the influence of hip-hop videos was evident on campus at Hampton, a private college, where male students felt under pressure to behave like thugs.
"We are destroying ourselves socially, and these guys [in the music industry] are cashing checks, and only a small percentage of my generation is understanding what's going on," Clark said. (Reuters)