In Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo’s new show on BET, Tales, he takes an array of different hip hop songs, and makes a movie out of them attempting to convey the record’s message on screen. The process is a lot more rigorous than a music video, but still possess a creative story line inspired simply by the music.
At this year’s American Black Film Festival in Miami, a room full of journalists, filmmakers and fans got a chance to see a portion of its premiere episode, “F**k Tha Police,” inside South Beach’s Colony Theater. The rap mogul and founder of Murder I.N.C took N.W.A.’s iconic song, and morphed it into a battle of race relations and police brutality. Yet in doing so, Gotti makes an interesting twist. Instead of following the usual white cop kills a young African-American man narrative; the roles here are reversed.
Everything that was shown for the first 45 minutes of the scheduled two-hour premiere tonight (June 27) , is a contrived litmus test for TV ratings and a seemingly powerful depiction of the exact same thing black America has endured from white authorities for decades. There was Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner and many more—but in Irv’s story the victim is a young white man, whose murder by a black cop was witnessed by Brody Wilson (Matthew Noska).
There is a prejudice black TV host (Clifton Powell) who claims young white men bring their respective killings upon themselves; for reasons that aren’t justified, but seem to fit a certain stereotype, which then makes black cops trigger-happy. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Amid the madness, a black prosecutor (played by Boris Kodjoe) aims to sympathize with the marginalized white community, in hopes of trying to solve the case. All the white people in the film live in a housing project infested with poverty in an area called “The Jungle.” There are scenes of racial profiling by black cops, and white rage fueled by the injustices placed upon unarmed white men. Yet there is hope with an interracial relationship among Noska and actress Nafessa Williams, who plays a young trophy wife.
Seeing the roles in reverse on screen makes you wonder what would life and our justice system really be like if the oppressors become the oppressed? Would the flip spur some sort of change? Gotti aims to answer this. “With the race reversal theme I just wanted to put a mirror up to society, and let them see a glimpse of how we feel as black people,” he said to attendees at the screening. “And maybe if they see it as horrifying as it is in this fictitious tale, maybe they’ll change things when another black person gets killed senselessly.”
While Irv’s admission is simple and genuine, part of his final product is unfortunately troubling and complex. There’s Chet Hanks (Tom Hank’s son) who plays the cool street savvy brother. Yet there’s something about him and his impoverished white friends that doesn’t fit. Aesthetically, their style and demeanor seems to mirror a heavy dose of cultural misappropriation, which mimics urban style. There’s dark lipstick, cornrows, bandanas and door-knocker earrings that adorn Eurocentric white Anglo Saxon faces. The image feels like scrolling through Instagram and seeing Kendall, Kylie, Kim and Khloe sporting bantu knots, cornrows and French braids—and then be credited as trendsetters by mainstream fashion magazines for wearing a hairstyle that black women have sported for decades.
Tales feels like it’s message would have resonated stronger if the characters were made with no trace of perpetuating a false stereotype, which is really the big cause of the problem in real life. But Gotti doesn’t plan on being so political in the episodes that follow. There will be other films based on songs like “Cold Hearted” by Meek Mill and the legendary “I Got a Story to Tell,” by Notorious B.I.G., which follow a more concrete hip hop story- telling narrative about life and beef in the rap game. There is also “Trap Queen” by FettyWap, which seems promising, “It’s really one of the best episodes,” Irv revealed. “It’s about a woman who has a man, and things happen with her boyfriend, and she takes control.”
The new hip-hop anthology will premiere tonight on BET at 8pm EST. Watch the trailer for its premiere episode, “F**ck Tha Police,” below.