“You know things are screwed up with America when the best rapper is white and the best golfer is black,” said basketball player Charles Barkley about Eminem and Tiger Woods last year. But isn’t the opposite true? Though America (“White America” to Slim Shady) still can’t see past the color of oil on foreign policy, there’s still hope for this country when a black man can command a white man’s sport and a white man can sing a black man’s song. That’s the kind of progress a film like 8 Mile should understand except screenwriter Scott Silver is too busy reworking Flashdance for the Interscope generation. Eminem stars as Rabbit, a Detroit teen with dreams of becoming a big time rapper. After little Rabbit chokes on the mic during the film’s opening rap slam, it’s all progressively downhill: he catches his mother (Kim Basinger making a bad part even worse) and her boyfriend fucking like bunnies; he goes ape-shit on the guy in front of his little Dakota Fanning sister; and discovers too late that any woman (Brittany Murphy) who enters a frame like a venereal disease and uses saliva as a natural lubricant must be up to no good.
Silver pummels Detroit’s 8 Mile poverty line into the ground—everyone in the cast gets to utter a variation of the same old song (“I gotta save some money and move out of here” gives way to “I got out of there as quick as I could”). Remarkably, if not entirely accidental, Silver challenges the ownership of rap. Rabbit’s (read: Eminem’s) success suggests that while rap has its origins in black history, it’s okay for a white man to rhyme if he’s lived below the poverty line alongside the black man. Silver, though, dubiously undermines the importance of race in Rabbit’s struggle for acceptance. In one preposterous going-home sequence, Rabbit sits at the back of a bus while an old black man gives him the ol’ “Hey cracker, ain’t that my seat?” bit. The only people in 8 Mile who “see” color are the badass Leaders of the Free World (wink, wink) who take Rabbit to the rap slam stage, and as such Silver and Eminem suggest that any black man who ever dealt the rapper a race card is whack.
Director Curtis Hanson builds to the inevitable smackdown between Eminem’s Rabbit Run and the Leaders of the Free World with tedious kitchen-sink realism. As a vanity project, the film is more tolerable than Purple Rain but it’s every bit as obvious and redundant. This is The Eminem Show, told by Eminem for the Eminem fan. As an actor, Eminem plays the victim well though martyrdom has never suited him. In one scene, Rabbit breaks it down for his co-workers at the car factory, distinguishing between “gay” and “faggot” for anyone who dared to call him a homophobe. Rabbit’s final slam is proof positive that Eminem can rap like no other yet 8 Mile has no real internal momentum of its own. Not only is the film nowhere near as raw as it should be, the inspirational hooks (find your voice, believe in yourself, et al) reek of an Afterschool Special. I doubt Eminem garnered the black community’s respect as easily as Rabbit does here. When Rabbit walks into Detroit’s urban sunset, he may as well have thrown his little hat into the air and pulled a Mary Tyler Moore. You’re gonna make it after all!