There’s a range of experience that isn’t being captured, George says.
Question:What needs to change about the media’s portrayal of Black culture?
Nelson George: I think that what’s happening – and this is the dark side of hip hop – is that sort of in the ‘60s, Black stuff became “soul”. Everything . . . There was soul bread. There was soul food, soul handshakes, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now everything is hip hop. Hip hop this, hip hop that. But the truth is it’s a much more complicated template. Hip hop . . . People sort of view hip hop as this thing that runs everything. But I always see hip hop as part of Black culture and not the other way around; and that hip hop responds to more broader general trends in terms of violence; in terms of family issues; education; all these things the music then reflects. But because hip hop was _________ this kind of easy short hand for marketers, they leave it . . . That’s why a guy like Tyler Perry who I brought up has been so successful. He’s built his whole base . . . It’s not . . . None of his stuff is cool. It’s, in fact, incredibly corny. It’s incredibly, you know, middle class and country in some respects. And he’s built this huge base because there’s a huge world about Black people who don’t give a damn about hip hop; who really don’t care about it, don’t like it, and don’t really have much interest in it. And he represents them culturally, both in his plays and in his films. So it just goes to show you that if you just read the mainstream press, you’d think the only thing that was happening in Black American culture was hip hop, and in fact it’s far from that. So the complexity and the range of expression within the Black community is really always underappreciated and narrow casted. When I did Life Support, even though Queen Latifah was a famous MC, I put almost . . . I think there’s maybe 30 seconds of hip hop in the movie. I wanted to make a movie about a particular existence and view of the world that doesn’t embrace . . . Hip hop is not a part of the dialogue about why women get the virus. And some people say, “Well hip hop ________.” That’s bull. People do what they do and they talk about it in records. So that song . . . That film almost has no hip hop in it, even though it’s set in Brooklyn and contemporary. But I don’t think that was germane to the experience of the women that I was writing about. And I think that that’s . . . Those are the kind of cultural choices you have to make. You have to really be clear that Black culture is not a monolith. There’s a lot of subsets and interesting tributaries to it, and that’s where the real fun is actually.