Bringing Wreck: The Films of Ava Duvernay
by Rachel Raimist — University of Alabama
September 04, 2012 – 00:00
In Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop Jeff Chang writes, “Hip-hop began as an early ‘70s youth street culture in New York City, with all the peculiarities of place embedded in it—the slang, the cadence of talk, the way people moved [… and] by the ’90s, hip-hop had helped foster a dramatic increase of representations of people of color.” In Ava Duvernay’s films, rap doesn’t blast as the score to every scene, but her work centers the lives of black and brown hip-hop generation folks with lives rooted in these aesthetics.
In 1989 South Central’s resistance to gangsta rap at the Good Life Café seemed to spark Duvernay’s storytelling. The west coast’s rap resistance to mainstream narratives of black men with guns is chronicled in her first film, This is The Life (2009), a story of hip-hop’s coming of age. Her documentary and narrative films center women of color narratively and visually. My Mic Sounds Nice (2010) frames women rappers in close-up shots that force you to look these women rappers in the eye, disrupting normative frames of rap video’s sexualizing gaze. I Will Follow (2011) and Middle of Nowhere (2012) have been recognized for their style and storytelling, and I argue, are “bringing wreck” to cinematic stories of the hip-hop generation.
In Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere, Gwendolyn Pough uses the rap notion of “wreck,” which connotes fighting, recreation and boasting, and extends it to Black women’s agency within hip-hop culture. Pough explains, “Bringing wreck for Black participants in the public sphere historically has meant reshaping the public gaze in such a way as to be recognized as human beings—as functioning and worthwhile members of society—and not to be shut out of or pushed away from the public sphere.”
Ava Duvernay’s filmmaking—from production to distribution brings wreck to hip-hop (read: challenges mainstream media’s limited and limiting representations) and to hip-hop generation black film, through Duvernay’s new model of distribution. She developed The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AaFFRM), which “celebrates fresh voices in Black filmmaking” and “is a bold new chapter in Black cinema.” AaFFRM’s slogan, “Together We Are Strong” speaks to the collective tenet of hip-hop culture and shifts the representations of hip-hop generation communities from reality television’s saturation of stereotypes, particularly of black womanhood, centering the beauty of hip-hop’s complexity.