HomeMusicBodied: Battle Rap Effectively Emasculates Racism

Bodied: Battle Rap Effectively Emasculates Racism

Photograph Courtesy YouTube Premium

I first saw Bodied at TIFF in 2017. Since then, I have been waiting for it to get distribution both so I can see it again and talk about it with others. This movie drops (this weekend) like a bomb and takes no prisoners in its story and execution about a white progressive college student’s journey into the world of battle rap. It has to be seen to be believed—because there is currently nothing like it.

Writers Joseph Kahn and Alex Larsen do the near impossible with one of the funniest, most original and most scathing movies of the year. Bodied is a movie so full of energy and purpose that its set-piece rap battles are nothing short of explosive. Its performances and lyrics are great throughout (a side effect of having Eminem as a producer), but what makes Bodied truly unique is its ability to explore and indict important ideas about race and “wokeness” while never having to resort to minority suffering to do so.

Bodied is a scathing satiric indictment of woke whiteness with no sympathy for its main character. That is, no sympathy for the white viewers empathizing with him. The racial epithets Adam (Calum Worthy) resorts to throwing in the ring sound bad out loud, and they are. But they don’t ring half as racist or offensive as his interactions with his newfound black, Asian and female friends, dripping in micro-aggressions that do a lot more damage than the low-hanging fruit of racial stereotypes in his verse ever could.

Adam is constantly in awe of his battle rap heroes but transparently afraid of the urban underground world they inhabit and transcend. His whiteness is simultaneously what gets him any attention and what makes him see himself as the Other. He believes the battle rappers treat him differently because of his whiteness so he constantly points out his whiteness and their race to them. He intends it as a compliment, and is oblivious as to how they can see he clearly subscribes to the stereotypes he says he is against.

Kahn and Larsen absolutely nail this dynamic. The film is littered with subtle nuances that add to Adam’s (as Jordan Peele called it) Democrat racism and details and moments that make its supporting characters so much better. Nearly nothing goes to waste in this film, and its message is hammered home by refusing to give any redemption to a character who deserves none. It is rare that a movie can present itself with such fearless intensity, and rarer still that that makes it such a landmark piece of pop culture of the post-2016 era.

The only moment of the film that does not work in service to its overall message about whiteness is one of the final battles of the film. Two of the previously-established rappers battle each other by turning the conventions of the previous 110 minutes of battle rapping on their head. It is a phenomenal scene and one of the standouts from an utterly brutal movie, but it is also the only scene that feels slightly out of nowhere compared to the laser-focused accuracy of the rest of the film.

Kahn had the hardest time finding distribution for Bodied both for its optics and its lack of appeal to white audiences. It is unfortunate that the best distributor he could find is YouTube, but it makes begrudging sense as it is an unapologetically offensive movie. It is good that it has gotten a limited theatrical release, because Bodied demands to be seen with a crowd. If you are able, and are not easily offended, I urge you to seek this movie out. I look forward to the think pieces and takedowns and analyses and backlash Bodied inspires, because it is simply begging for all of them.

Rating: 9/10

Bodied is now playing in select theaters.


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