ATL keeps it real

Whenever they hear of a movie by or involving any hip-hop artist most people would decide to keep their money. Not only have most rap industry films failed to go beyond the sex, money and drugs model, they have also not been good at it, i.e. any film with a rapper in it.

Recently there’s been an explosion of focus on southern-based rap, especially from Atlanta and Houston. The “dirty South” took a swing at the movie game with “ATL” — a story of life in Atlanta (ATL), the nucleus of the “dirty South crunk swagger.” When this film first came to my attention I expected what hip-hop artists have been providing in films since the early 90s — a shoot-em-up, getting-paid, I-got-the-juice, it’s-hard-out-here-for-a-pimp, limited representation of the Black experience. However, gladly and to my surprise, it was the exact opposite. “ATL” actually had something to say. It didn’t glorify the drug game as (something it has never been) the focal point of the Black experience.

“ATL” stars Tip “T.I” Harris as Rashad Swann, Antwan Andre Patton (Outkast’s “Big Boi”) as Marcus and a slew of young Black actors. The story focuses on the life around four young men who make up a roller-skating team known as “The Ones.” Every Sunday, The Ones go to Atlanta’s legendary roller rink Cascades and show off their new moves to rival skating crews. If you have ever gone roller-skating in a real roller rink, this movie does the scene justice.

Rashad’s life in the film consists of living in a house with his uncle and his little brother Antwone “Ant,” working for his family’s cleaning company, and working on graduating from high school.

While Rashad has been saving money for the past three years, Ant has dreams of making quick money and gets introduced to the reality of the drug game. With dreams of lust, glimmer and glory, Ant gets introduced to the two-steps-forward, five-steps-back truth of being a drug dealer. Ant ends up owing local dealer Marcus some big money. While Rashad has a fallout with his girlfriend and his buddies and it seems like his whole life is falling apart, he stays focused and looks to protect his brother’s life.

The thing that “ATL” does that most hip-hop generated movies does not is actually portray Black life through cinema in an accurate way. It is the first movie showing Black life that actually made me feel good at the end. It is a story of life, of struggle and the strength you find in friends and family. There is no make-it-big scheme. Nobody dies. Writer Antwone Fisher (who also wrote the 2002 autobiographical film “Antwone Fisher”) did something that most hip-hop films pride themselves on achieving, but always fall short of — keeping it real.


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