Hip-hop music has spent a good couple of weeks under the microscope. Musicians, activists, social workers, teachers and, of course, television talk show hosts have dissected and, in many cases, disparaged what is a truly engaging and uplifting art form. On Sunday, in a darkened screening room in Los Angeles, the Motion Picture Association of America's Ratings Review Board had its opportunity to poke and prod and pass judgment on our film, "The Hip-Hop Project." In a historical decision, the board gave the film -- which had been previously rated R for language -- a PG-13 rating, giving teens across the country access to what can only be described as an inspiring and uplifting tale of a young man who rose from the streets to touch so many lives through the much maligned hip-hop medium.
The film, which is set to open in 15 cities on May 11, is the chronicle of Kazi, a formerly homeless teenager who inspires a group of New York City teens to transform their life stories into powerful works of art, using hip-hop as a force for hope, healing and the realization of dreams.
"The Hip-Hop Project" is a call to end the destructive forces of violence, misogyny and criminality that dominate much of the music and popular culture that our children are absorbing. This is the first film to show an alternative that is positive, growth-oriented and honest in a way that is accessible to young people (hence the "language" in the film). The overwhelming majority of parents, educators and medical professionals who have seen the movie have told us that they are desperate to provide their children with this model for change.
The essence of what parents and teachers are saying around the country is that "The Hip-Hop Project" validates the importance of creative expression that is rooted in personal life experiences. They see a film that empowers young people to focus on their hopes and dreams, in contrast to the bankrupt and soul-destroying nature of music and imagery grounded in hatred and violence.
So far we have screened the film for more than 25,000 young people around the country as part of a social outreach campaign. We are creating a companion curriculum for use in schools, churches, and after-school programs to accommodate the countless requests by parents and educators to make this film and its educational tools available to their children and students.
"The Hip Hop Project" is a counterbalance that is reaching young people and offering a powerful and engaging alternative to the gratuitous and mind-numbing use of sex, violence and vile language that is being generated in so much of our popular culture and emulated by our young people.
The national discussion sparked by Don Imus' remarks has set the stage for this film to have an even greater impact. "The Hip-Hop Project" has the potential to lead the way toward change in a format that is honest, accessible and "real" to kids.
We are aiming for real change with this film and are to donating 100 percent of the net profits to organizations around the country working with youth. In the case of "The Hip-Hop Project," a little bit of harsh "real" language in the context of a genuine and powerful film can go a long way to countering the spread of a whole lot of gratuitous language and violence.
The Motion Picture Association of America's Ratings Review Board showed great courage in overturning the initial R rating. As if to affirm the decision, "The Hip-Hop Project" is bringing families together who are eager to experience the very real and life-changing stories of Kazi and the young people whose lives he's helped to change. On Thursday evening, in a crowded theater outside of Washington D.C., families attending a preview screening cheered mightily as it was announced that the rating had been overturned. Ironically, it is hip-hop that is leading the way to positive change and healing.
It is easy to take shots at what is wrong in today's music. To offer a meaningful alternative -- to actually say something with substance is the challenge. As Kazi says to a gathering of teenagers in the film, "If you had the whole world listening, what would you have to say?" The kids of "The Hip-Hop Project" have a whole lot to say. Sway, of MTV, appears in the film and had a chance to work with them. He described them this way: "These young minds are powerful and hungry…if this is a prelude to the future, then we have a lot to look forward to."
Scott K. Rosenberg produced the movie "The Hip-Hop Project"