I saw Hustle and Flow, and while I liked, even admired, parts of the film, I could never get over the fact that the movie seemed to simply refuse to interrogate or grapple with its lead character’s misogyny and the problematics of his relationship to the women he pimped. That’s not to say I wanted some kind of judgement from the film of the character, or for him to get some comeuppance, but the movie seemed to think we should be rooting for its lead simply because he was a guy with a dream, and I didn’t have any interest in doing that.
I guarantee that the words provocative, bold, and courageous will be bandied about in discussions of this movie, and they won’t be entirely misplaced. Writer and director Craig Brewer, who made 2005’s Hustle and Flow, has a fine sense of locale (here, the Tennessee countryside), a way of coaxing thrilling performances from actors, and terrific taste in music. But can we just start with something very basic here? Chaining someone to your radiator is wrong. Depriving a near-naked and recently assaulted stranger of the most basic physical liberty for days on end is a sick, perverse, and cruel thing to do. Black Snake Moan appears to be–or, worse, pretends to be–oblivious to that simple fact. And that obliviousness makes all of the movie’s supposed risk-taking seem more like exploitation
UPDATE: Katha Pollitt writes in to point out that it’s a bit absurd to endorse a review of a movie that you haven’t seen as “spot on.” Fair point. So let me clarify. In her review of the Black Snake Moan, Dana Stevens does a good job of articulating what I found troubling about Hustle and Flow, namely:
In that movie, Terrence Howard’s character was meant to remain the focus of our attention and sympathy even after he threw one of his hookers out into the street with her baby as punishment for talking back. I never forgave the character for that act, and by the end of the movie, I couldn’t have given a shit whether he achieved rap fame or not (with the “boo-hoo, I’m a pimp” song that he neither wrote nor sang by himself but ran around taking full credit for).
That’s how I felt about that film. Since I haven’t seen Black Snake Moan, I have no idea whether Craig Brewer transcends that in it or not. But Stevens point about what bothered her about Hustle and Flow struck a chord.