Starring Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Jonathan Park, Shoniqua Shandai, Dizaster
Houston born director Joseph Kahn’s latest film is not only his most prolific but his most subversively important. On the outside, Bodied, produced by Eminem, is a rap battle film with strong language, examining everything from racism to white privilege. Kahn’s script is more than just a relevant tool that creatively explores racial dynamics, but it’s a creative way to encourage discussion in the most absurd ways. Kahn said at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, that he was very picky where he was allowing him film to be shown. “This is only the third festival I have allowed it in and have turned down all the rest.”. At the time of this review Bodied still does not have a distributor, yet already won audience prizes at Fantastic Fest and Toronto and will likely be released in 2018.
Adam (Worthy) is a privileged, PhD candidate in literature attending Berkley. He’s also interested in the poetry aspect of rap. He drags his girlfriend Maya (Uphold) to a grimy rap battle, where two street accredited rappers spout off in one-another’s face as the crowd roars the more vulgar the rhetoric becomes. Adam’s hero Behn Grymm (Long) wins this battle, and agrees to speak to him for his thesis. What no one expected is Adam’s rap potential, called out in the parking lot after the rap battle, shocking everyone with his understanding of how this lyrical competition works. The dorky Adam becomes Behn’s protégée and Maya is mortified at the things coming out of her boyfriend’s mouth. Adam changes into something unrecognizable as rap becomes more important than even the people who helped him acquire his new hobby.
Bodied isn’t for everyone, but will surprise those who expect some simplistic film about rap music.
Bodied isn’t for everyone, but will surprise those who expect some simplistic film about rap music. The scenes outside the rap battles are equally as interesting and honestly, I could have used more of those but Kahn is more interested in two characters going at each other with insults. The performances are surprisingly good for this non-marquee cast of television actors and actual musical artists. Bodied is also far more revelatory than Patti Cakes, another rap based film making the festival circuit earlier this year. Kahn’s experience in music videos comes in handy here as he keeps the audience engaged during these battles that often run the length of a video. Bodied however suffers from too much of a good thing and could use some editing and narrative rethinking in the final act. The third act rap battle is like an action scene gone too long.
No subject or retort is off limits and every race, culture, creed and affiliation gets a mention. The flashy guns are in there, women and Asian culture are hit pretty hard with a lot of the slurs, yet at the same time Kahn’s script is full of strong female characters. “All the white boys always have to reference Eminem”, even the film’s producer isn’t safe from the script. Bodied is a politically incorrect roasting of class and culture, but perhaps what’s the most unsettling is the white boy at the center of it all. Worthy’s performance is surprisingly good for a former Disney channel actor, but it’s a little concerning on the whole that after all the valid points made on white privilege, it’s the white guy whose elevated to cool/hero status. Bodied will mean something different for different people, it’s charm is the long reach across cultural boundaries.
A surprising crowd pleaser and unique experience from varying perspectives.