Utah’s Sundance Film Festival is a crucial notch on the indie film circuit. Each January, the event launches classics like Quentin Tarantino‘s 1992 film Reservoir Dogs and helps first-time directors prove their worth to big time studios and distributors. Last year, Nate Parker‘s Birth Of A Nation sold for a record $17.5 million at Sundance before its positive buzz was burdened by a rape case from the director and star’s college years. Now, one of 2017’s entries appears marked for the same massive hype and inevitable backlash that plagues so many independent films once the protective and congratulatory bubble of film festivals bursts.
Patti Cake$, a millennial version of 8 Mile, is set in suburban New Jersey and follows a 23-year-old white girl with secret ambitions to become a rapper. The film received standing ovations at Sundance in January and the release of its trailer this week signals the start of its official marketing push.
Good, bad or average, Patti Cake$ will soon be cornered by the three inevitable realities of the 2017 media landscape: First, the multi-cultural, blue-collar underdog story will be lifted above its peers by studios and corporations who are enticed by its crossover appeal. But this appeal won’t be measured by quality, authenticity or emotional impact — only the potential ease with which white audiences can consume the story and its characters without incident.
Next, the new heights and unwarranted attention will expose Patti Cake$ to further examination and critique from audiences and cultures outside of Hollywood’s mainstream sphere of influence.
And finally, like Birth Of A Nation, the movie will age horribly in the national spotlight, crushed under the pressure of its own hype and ambition.
Patti Cake$‘ two-minute trailer has already confirmed it to be a cliche’d mockery of the cultures it thrifts.
Patti Cake$‘ two-minute trailer has already confirmed it to be a cliche’d mockery of the cultures it thriftsThat makes it perfect for middle American audiences who prefer Macklemore to Kendrick Lamar, Iggy Azalea to Azealia Banks and any quarterback to Collin Kaepernick for reasons beyond pure talent or logic. But if the culture vulture consumption cycle that Hollywood has adopted to survive the streaming age crowns Patti Cake$ its darling of 2017, expect more Twitter debates and think-pieces about it over the next six months than if Pepsi sponsored a Nate Parker and Kendall Jenner sex tape.
Unlike past movies about Caucasian rappers like Whiteboyz and Malibu’s Most Wanted, Patti Cake$ isn’t a satire that aims to make a fool of culture vulturism by shining a light on its absurdity. According to Geremy Jasper, the writer and director, this is an authentic story about a hero whose struggles and aspirations we can all relate to.
We’re supposed to buy that Patti, an overweight and working class millennial who lives at home, is a charming underdog who deserves a chance to live out her rap dreams and escape her oppressive reality. Whether her dreams are realistic or sincere isn’t important. Like the millions of Black and brown artists who have watched Iggy, Macklemore and Katy Perry receive top-billing for imitations of varying qualities, merit can be a tricky concept for Americans.
Sadly, a white girl rapping poorly is a story we all need to pay attention to in the age of Donald Trump. It’s more important than ever to understand how and why white mediocrity sells for the same price — or, in this case, a far higher price — as Black excellence. I can’t wait to see the movie via bootleg, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I enjoyed it after a few sips and puffs. But reading reviews, watching the trailer and listening to the director speak about his vision exposes an obvious flaw in his good intentions. Consequence Of Sound writes, “‘Cartoonish’ is an unfortunately apt description for quite a bit of Patti Cake$. For a film so concerned with issues of authenticity and belonging, it often struggles with its own credibility.”
And the vulture shows its feathers: the powers that be will boost it in spite of the peoples’ boos. I just want to do a live commentary of Patti Cake$ with Damon Dash and Joe Budden yelling at each other about this film’s authenticity with the kind of passion that would clear out a theater in Utah.
But if it turns out to be a half-baked rotten tomato littered with the skeletons of borrowed culture, it will just be further proof that Hollywood is burning before our eyes.
2017’s Sundance festival drew almost 50,000 film buffs to Park City, a ski town near Salt Lake City, for what is officially the largest film festival in the United States. It’s turned Ryan Gosling, the Coen Brothers and countless others into legit Hollywood players, and less than 100 of the thousands of yearly entries receive the honor of debuting.
Hopefully Patti Cake$ was worthy of that honor, and of the praise it will undoubtedly receive across the festival circuit once corporate America gets hold of it. But if it turns out to be a half-baked rotten tomato littered with the skeletons of borrowed culture, it will just be further proof that Hollywood is burning before our eyes. Send in another superhero movie to try to save it.