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Pick Up the Mic
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by Laura Kyle

"It may liberate the Elton John's of the rap world, but it only bored me."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Gay and transgender rappers are inherently interesting. So if you make a documentary about gay and transgender rappers, your documentary is probably going to be interesting Ė maybe even a hit. But somehow Pick Up the Mic manages to be unentertaining.

I bet you didnít know queer hip-hop existed, and that itís even a social movement. Well, queer hip-hop is one of the many subcultures that mainstream America knows nothing aboutÖ so hereís Alex Hinton with his documentary Pick Up the Mic to enlighten viewers about a rather unusual underground music scene. Or bore them.

Despite its fascinating, quirky subject matter, Pick Up the Mic gets dull real quickly. In other words, I fell asleep during it.

Ooh, how shocking!!! Gay rappers!!! Thanks to the likes of super masculine, occasionally gay-bashing rap ďartistsĒ like Eminem and 50 Cent, itís a little weird to think of gay, lesbian, and transsexual rappers. Why would gay people want to participate in music that objectifies and demeans women?

But youíll get used to the idea after a few live performances and behind the scenes testimonies from artists who consider queer hip-hop a genre they donít mind exploiting and others who want to speak to a more universal audience. Youíll see folks on stage in front of hyped up crowds, rhyming conventional and unconventional lyrics, and be treated to their opinions about this controversial music. (Ah, the irony, that popular rap is more socially acceptable than this kind, which generally sports much more parent-friendly themes.)

But thatís all there is Ė just interview after performance after interview after performance. It gets old after a while and eventually you either want juicier, personal stories to back it all up or famous, straight rappers like Snoop Dog to reflect on the issue. Maybe even a history of hip-hop and more discussion about how its spirit has been distorted by popular music today would have improved Pick Up the Mic. As well, it certainly doesnít help that the dry doco has not a single iota of style.

For many, Hintonís exposure of this largely unknown group of musicians is sufficient and even preferable over a flashier presentation. But it bored me and by the end credits, I just didnít care anymore about these marginalized rappers who I most definitely SHOULD care about. Iím an open-minded liberal after all and I even like music!

However, maybe itís a good sign that Pick Up the Mic wasnít all that shocking to me after the first 10 minutes or so. Because that means ďgayĒ isnít all that shocking, not even when itís associated with activities that are typically reserved for heterosexuals.

Even with Hinton's disinterested, hands-off approach, Pick Up the Mic is probably pretty good PR for what I would think is a frequently misunderstood and unfairly judged segment of the population. So kudos to the freshman documentarian for spreading awareness about this flamboyant brand of rap/music revolution. I just hope that next time around, he makes a more compelling film.

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originally posted: 03/22/06 10:16:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

10/15/06 William Goss Culturally insightful, but cinematically redundant. 3 stars
11/27/05 Andy Powell Great look into the continuing struggle of gay/lesbian in music that is mainstream 5 stars
9/29/05 Jeff McDonnelly Most amazing Doc of the festival - Where's the soundtrack?? 5 stars
9/21/05 TracyKaye Gets beyond the simple "Isn't hip-hop homophobic?" and picks up a movement and community. 5 stars
9/16/05 bluenote This was a truly remarkable movie film showcasing homohop's best! 5 stars
9/16/05 Skptc2 Toronto showing-depth & insight 5 stars
9/16/05 Allie Wombwell Loved it! They did a really fantastic job! 5 stars
9/16/05 Edie Wombwell Saw the premier. Excellent!!!!!! 5 stars
9/15/05 Serg It was about time that the gay hip hop community was well represented in a documentary. 5 stars
9/14/05 Kevin Egeland A masterful, edgy and sensitive work. I can say that I am now a huge fan of gay hip-hop 5 stars
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Directed by
  Alex Hinton

Written by

  Juba Kalamka
  Johnny Dangerous

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