The “Hustle and Flow” of music and dreams

The 2005 movie “Hustle and Flow” is about a small-time Memphis drug dealer and pimp who yearns for something bigger. Being a movie about both dreams and making music, I was naturally intrigued. It’s an amazing film, even if rap isn’t your favorite musical genre, and writer/director Craig Brewer captures an emotional authenticity that keeps the story realistic and engaging. While it might sound like a typical, predictable “struggling artist realizes his dreams” movie, this is not “Krush Groove.”

DJay, as played by Terence Howard, is not a caricature, but a complex, multi-dimensional character, as are the friends and prostitutes in his orbit. The story really takes off when DJay runs into an old friend (played by Anthony Anderson) who earns money as a sound engineer but dreams of making it in the music business. This encounter spurs DJay to hustle, bluff, or do whatever he must to pursue his dream. But any plot synopsis can’t capture what is great about the movie, which only emerges in the details of the characters and their interactions and what ultimately happens in the movie’s climactic scene. The scene in the bathroom is a perfect metaphor for the music industry.

What makes the experience of seeing this movie even more meaningful, though, is to watch the extra features on the DVD and hear how Brewer and producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain struggled to get the movie made. They describe the immense difficulties and resistance they encountered trying to sell the idea of the film to studios. At last, after being turned down one too many times and not even able to raise a meager $750,000, Singleton got tired of hustling the script and decided to finance the movie himself.

I definitely needed to see a movie like this after the frustrations I experienced this fall organizing the Gemini Soul tour. I never worked so hard making all the preparations (well, that time I worked two days in a plastics factory, like a cog in a giant wheel, was more physically exhausting). So it was consoling to hear something from both the fictional and real-world angles that acknowledges how hard the struggle is to follow a dream. Sometimes you’re on the verge of giving up and you just want to sit in the corner with a tub of ice cream.

If you’re a creative individual and you’re feeling frustrated, I recommend renting this DVD, and be sure to watch the extra features. It will remind you that you’re not alone.

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