Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle American Pimp

By Marjorie Baumgarten

AUGUST 14, 2000: 

D: The Hughes Brothers. (Not Rated, 87 min.)

Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, who, in their previous films, Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, resisted the temptation to re-create the modern myths of the urban black ghettos yet maintained their commitment to honest, exciting, and relevant storytelling have now focused on examining the mystique of the self-made black entrepreneurs known as pimps. This film is a documentary that explores "pimpology": its psychology, economics, lingo, couture, and mythology. The filmmakers cross the country recording numerous pimps' first-hand accounts of their activities and history. The document is fascinating, partly because of its originality. Despite becoming favorable icons of the 1970s blaxploitation cinema and figures who are becoming copycat icons for some modern white rock stars, these black urban pimps have rarely been heard in their own voices and narratives. The Hughes Brothers, who came of age during these decades, can be seen to be making a somewhat personal documentary that attempts to sort out the cultural standards of manhood. This is not a movie that in any way examines the women who are exploited by the pimps or their customers. American Pimp is an investigation of American business ingenuity, of how pimping is a way for a poor black man to pull himself up by his bootstraps and into a position of power. For the purposes of this documentary, the Hughes Brothers let the subjects speak for themselves, although the consequences of their trade never seem far from the filmmakers' minds. But they eschew moralizing and allow characters with names like Fillmore Slim, Rosebudd, C-Note, Sir Captain, and Bishop Don Magic Juan boast and brag and, despite their best intentions, reveal a great deal about what makes them ­ and our attraction to them ­ tick. Although it's fascinating anthropological material, the Brothers permit it to go on for too long without filmically intervening and shaping the material. Still, they've hit on an investigation that brings something new to the American dialogue. No matter our opinions of pimps and their strategies of their livelihood, these are voices of the disenfranchised who have not had their self-defined moment in the American spotlight. Like so many other aspects of black culture, the image and allure of the pimp has been co-opted by the dominant culture and entered the popular mindset as mere buffoons and brutes. American Pimp offers real insight into this alternative black economy and the community's beliefs about manhood. As one of the subjects says, "You gotta be a man before you're a pimp." (American Pimp screened previously in Austin during the SXSW Film Festival. For interview with the directors see auschron.com/issues/dispatch/2000-03-17/screens_feature4.html.)

2.5 Stars

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