June 20, 2011

Hip-hop culture in Alaska

An interview with the director of On the Ice makes some interesting points about the culture of Alaska's Native youth:

On the Ice Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean Examines Tradition vs. Hip-Hop Culture in Alaska

By Jen YamatoThat juxtaposition between tradition and modernity is fascinating, even in the opening scenes alone. You show your teenage protagonists performing traditional dances, then hitting a house party with hip-hop playing and kids freestyling. How did you familiarize yourself with that generation of kids and their lifestyle?

I have a million cousins up there—I’m related to half of the town. So basically I was watching my cousins growing up, and they’re like ten or fifteen years younger than me. Seeing what they’re doing, what they’re going through, and how the pace of things has picked up so much. How much the stakes have risen. The drugs are harder and it’s easier to sort of lose your way, but at the same time it’s easier to find it. There’s a deeper level of pride that they have in themselves within the culture. They’re forced to stake their identity in a way—they go on Facebook, they join native groups, they reach out to each other and proclaim themselves in a way that I found really interesting. And they use things like hip-hop for that. I have cousins of mine who were just making demo tapes, rapping, they’re appropriating a style, a kind of identity that they want. They kind of want to be like Lil Wayne or Jay-Z or something like that, but at the same time they don’t. They use that, and instead of trying to rap about stuff that’s really not a part of their lives, they’re proclaiming their pride in who they are and where they’re from through hip-hop. I found that interesting and it was one of the real launching points for my approach to the feature.
And:[T]he inciting incident in On the Ice comes out of these teenagers having these weapons that are meant for sustenance and for hunting, and becoming overcome by the macho confrontational swagger prevalent in hip-hop culture.

Absolutely. And I remember thinking about that in writing. I read a news article when I was in the stages of writing about it, and it was a police chief in Newark or something talking about why violence happens. What he was saying was that violence doesn’t happen over big things. People don’t get killed over millions of dollars or huge love stories or anything like that these days, it’s about somebody giving someone a wrong look, and then it escalates. It’s this culture of not backing down, and it’s related to exactly that, this kind of macho, no-compromise, “You disrespect me? I’m gonna come at you harder.’” Then you’re gonna come at me harder, then I’m gonna come at you harder, and eventually somebody dies from it. That’s where the violence in On the Ice comes from. It starts over nothing. It just erupts because of that kind of unwillingness to step back and evaluate—which is really antithetical to the traditional culture up there, which is very nonviolent.
Comment:  Read the article for more on how MacLean made On the Ice, chose its actors, etc.

For more on the subject, see On the Ice Challenges Stereotypes and On the Ice Wins in Berlin.

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