Dr. Jekyll and 50 Cent

Not affiliated with the Keanu Reeves version. Alas.

"...and there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black, sneering coolness..." - R. L. Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde.

"...and there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black, sneering coolness..." - R. L. Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde.

Certain corners of the internet are agog over the news that Abel Ferrara is working on a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Forest Whitaker as the good Doctor and 50 Cent – yes, that one – as his alter ego.

I find it somewhat distressing, or at least questionable.  The idea of casting Fiddy as a monster isn’t such a problem, what with his career-making turn as Frankenstein, but I’m concerned about the cultural baggage that goes along with this particular monster.  The whole point of Hyde is that he’s the id personified.  Not just evil: irrational, set in opposition to civilization and even to conscious thought.  There’s something unpleasant about casting a rapper in this part.

Ask yourself:  what’s the difference between a rapper and a poet?  If you answered “nothing,” good for you.  But I think most people, if they’re honest with themselves, and not thinking about it too hard, think that poetry is intellectual and involves skill, while rap is “emotional” (i.e. instinctual), and involves some kind of inborn talent.  Rappers, after all, have to be “real,” while poets—at least these days—just have to be “good.”  And while this is to a certain degree true of all pop music, the dichotomy is… not without racial undertones.

"You can find me in the club."  No wait, wait! "I got the magic stick." No wait, wait!  "I'll Whip Ya Head, Boy!"

"You can find me in the club." No wait, wait! "I got the magic stick." No wait, WAIT! "I'll Whip Ya Head, Boy!"

On the other hand, maybe it’s only appropriate.  It’s not like rappers don’t shape their own images as irrational geniuses, and why shouldn’t movies reflect the images they present?  If I had a nickel for every rapper who boasted about being “born to the game” or something similar, I’d be rich, and if I had a dime for every one that made a big point about being craaaaaazy, I’d be a richer.  This kind of thing may provide fodder for the advocates of censorship, but it would be short-sighted not to recognize its progressive tendencies.  It actually comes from a rather distinguished tradition within African-American pop music:  Funkadelic’s great “message” album One Nation Under a Groove has a startling song called “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo-Doo Chasers)” which is about id in a much more specific way than Jekyll and Hyde could ever hope to be.  (Lines such as “Constipated nineteen now-nows emerge from the hiney of your head” are typical.) George Clinton’s point is not to juxtapose the scatalogical and the political, but rather to claim that scatology is politics.

Tom Stoppard gets into this a little in Rock and Roll:

“The policeman isn’t fightened by dissidents! Why should he be? Policemen love dissidents, like the Inquisition loved heretics.  Heretics give meaning to the defenders of the faith.  Nobody cares more than a heretic.  You friend [Vaclav] Havel cares so much he writes a long letter to [Gustáv] Husák.  It makes no odds whether it’s a love letter or a protest letter.  It means they’re playing on the same board.  So Husák can relax, he’s made the rules, it’s his game.  The population plays the other way, by agreeing to be bribed by places at university, or an easy ride at work … they care enough to keep their thoughts to themselves, their haircuts give nothing away.  But the Plastics [an underground Czech rock band] don’t care at all.  They’re unbribable.  They’re coming from somewhere else, from where the Muses come from.  They’re not heretics.  They’re pagans.”

It’s a little odd applying this idea to 50 Cent, since he’s so committed to financial success.  Maybe gangster rappers are more analagous to Stoppard’s “heretics,” in that they try to seem dangerous to society, but actually glorify the same things that society glorifies (i.e. cash, money, millionaires, etc).   Dirt McGirt, on the other hand, was a pagan… and so  to an extent are all rappers – all musicians – just as long as their talents are thought to come “from where the Muses come from,” “from the hiney of your head.”

11 Comments on “Dr. Jekyll and 50 Cent”

  1. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Your issue with the movie seems to be, “Casting a rapper as Hyde may be insulting to the profession of rap.” Whereas my issue is that Whitaker is an Academy Award-winning genius, and 50 Cent has never been known for his acting skills. I would be much more excited to see Whittaker play both roles. I seriously doubt 50 Cent can make me believe he’s really Forrest Whitaker.

    Then again, acting skills are almost beside the point – this is metacasting. 50 Cent has a well-known reputation as a felon who was shot multiple times. He’s intimidating. Casting him makes the movie about our culture’s views of black America.

    Of course, if 50 Cent wants to keep his stone-cold badass rep, he needs to stop hanging out with Bette Midler:


  2. John Perich #

    The one lightly touched aspect to this story that I think might explain more of it: Abel Ferrara’s directing. Abel “Bad Lieutenant” Ferrara. Abel “King of New York” Ferrara.

    The man’s had a long association (whether deserved or no) with shocking cinematic choices. So hearing that he’s casting an Oscar-winning actor as the civilized Dr. Jekyll and an ex-convict rapper as the unrestrained Mr. Hyde doesn’t surprise me.


  3. Rob #

    Love your shoutout to ODB; may he rest in peace. He would indeed have been a much more intuitive choice than 50 Cent.

    But I posit that Tupac would have been an appropriate choice for both Jekyll and Hyde.


  4. Nick #

    Any thoughts on universals take on the same story with Keanu Reeves as both Jekyll and Hyde?
    It’s hard to decide who’s better/worse cast for this role.

    On the one hand 50 cent’s a rapper, not an actor, and I can’t see him coming off as anything other than maybe a slightly larger than life version of himself. On the other hand at least he’s only playing one side of Jekyll/Hyde. Keanu Reeves doesn’t seem to have the range that it will take to convincingly play both characters. While it does seem better to have the same actor play both parts, I do think it will take a much better actor than Reeves to do it well.

    Hopefully Guillermo del Toro’s version (seriously, how many Jekyll/Hyde pictures are they planning on making?) will have some better casting.


  5. Gab #

    I think it takes a while for any performer to cross over, but for singers/rappers to become actors takes multiple projects before they can “prove” themselves and get enough acting cred to seem legit, usually. I personally find it a little hard to take the role seriously when a music artist has a part in a movie unless I’ve seen them do real, serious work already. This isn’t just rappers. And of course, this isn’t to say singers/rappers are always bad. But anyway, I guess my point here is casting 50 as the other half of the main character gives me the willies, not because he’s 50 Cent per say, but because he’s an inexperienced rapper that got the job through, as Belinkie said, total metacasting- his prior record is why he’s doing it, not his acting skill. And I think that’s why a lot of other music performers get roles, of course.

    Thinking of it from a sociological/psycological perspective, though, it makes some sense, this metacasting. Forest Whitaker is a very educated, accomplished man, so he fits the role of the educated, accomplished Jekyll. If Hyde is the id personified, 50 Cent sort of fits, too. After all, the name of his first album was “Get Rich or Die Trying,” the implication being he would do whatever necessary to get what he wants, and to hell with the consequences: he’s willing to push himself so far he’d die. His past and carnal lust for self-fulfillment may, indeed, make him perfect. Yes, in a somewhat creepy way, but it’s rather fitting, nonetheless.

    I’d feel the same all-around, though, if the actor and musician were white, and for similar reasons. Say it was Tom Hanks and Kid Rock. No arguing Hanks would be able to pull off a smashing, heart-wrenching performance. And he fits: he’s smart and classy. But who does Kid Rock think he is, acting as Hanks’ opposite? Yet he also sort of fits, too, because of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he at least depicts himself a proponent of- his videos show just as many naked women as a rappers’ and have their share of alcohol, for one thing. So the acting potential may not say much, the image and pre-conceived notions of him make it work, at least on paper.

    @Rob and John: Tupac probably *would* have been able to do both, if it absolutely must have been a wrapper. But I’m with Belinkie, I think Whitaker could do it on his own. At least Ferrara isn’t going for REAL shock with a rapper and using Lil Kim a la _Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde_.

    @Nick: There was also one on TV in January of last year in the UK.

    @Belinkie: It’s all a facade.


  6. Gab #

    “rapper” not “wrapper”



  7. stokes OTI Staff #

    Granted, Whitaker doing both roles would have been a better movie. But my post isn’t so much “Oh, I wish they hadn’t done this, they should have done this instead” but rather “Ok, look, this is what they actually *did* do, how should we feel about it?”

    I’m feeling guardedly optimistic about the whole thing. It’s a provocation, but as Perich notes, Ferrara has a pretty good track record with provocations. And the fact that Whitaker would do a great Hyde makes actually makes him a better choice for Jekyll. They could have gone the super schematic route and cast someone like Morgan Freeman (or even a self-consciously cerebral rapper like Gift of Gab) as Jekyll… but that would make for a much LESS interesting movie, don’t you think?


  8. fenzel #

    William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have pretty big problems with your definition of poetry.

    “Rapper” is a subset of “poet,” just like “slam poet” is a subset of “poet” or “angsty teenager” is a subset of poet.

    But I know what you’re talking about, and even if you proceed from the subdivision you’re describing (where we’re shrinking the idea of a “poet” to a very specific, bookish sort of fellow or gal – like the best-selling new poet of the last ten years or so, Jewel, when she is using a word processor rather than a microphone), I kind of have a problem with it too.

    Most poetry that is written and published in English these days (as distinct from the poetry that is studied in school) is much more emotional than intellectual – just as it has been for the last 200 years or so. It’s not less emotional – just more boring.

    Solid, intellectually grounded poetical technique is not the kind of thing you tend to run into more often in poets than in rappers, even if you read a lot of poetry.

    The actual differences are much more aesthetic and product-oriented than artistic and process-oriented. To make the distinction, you should probably look at things like media of publication, venue of performance, accompaniment, age, race, level of formal education, editors vs. producers, etc.

    But if you see somebody on the subway scribbling lines of verse into a notepad, there’s probably a pretty simple rule to distinguish poets from rappers.

    If it’s a girl, she’s probably a poet.

    If it’s a boy, he’s probably a rapper.

    If it’s over 30, regardless of gender, he or she is probably a poet.

    That will probably serve you better than trying to hash out the artistic differences between “Brooklyn (We Go Hard)” and “To Brooklyn Bridge.”

    I mean, the biggest difference is when Jay-Z is rockin’ his fabulous life the way he wants to in the face of a host of haters and moral condemners on his boat, he doesn’t jump off and kill himself.


  9. fenzel #

    (I should clarify – Folks over 30 who are still rappers probably don’t ride the subway anymore)


  10. Gab #

    @Fenzel: So is Jay-Z a real poet or not, considering he doesn’t kill himself?


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