SCREEN: How To Make It In America: Made In America documentary
by Lawrence Ferrell
“We are all flawed human beings. We all have the same struggles and the same dreams”—Jay Z
With those words in mind, the 90 minute Showtime documentary, Made In America, took us on a journey from music to what does making it in America mean to its citizens. In the midst of the current government shutdown, this couldn’t have came at a better time. In the vein of Woodstock, Wattstax, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, Made In America is one part music concert and one part stories/commentaries from artists and everyday people. Filmed during this year’s festival over the Labor Day weekend, director Ron Howard took the viewer on an American Dream excursion. For food vendor, Nicole Zalewski, it’s making enough money at the festival to fix up her food truck to support her and her daughter. For a group of young Philadelphians, it’s a chance to get on a Philly Has Talent showcase in hopes of starting a new life.
Some moments that connected with me were:
*Tyler the Creator being Tyler as he was being interviewed by Opie Richie Cunningham.
*Seeing a crowd of thousands singing the first verse of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man”, connecting with each stranger for that one brief moment.
*Janelle Monae speaking on her working class family and how her stage “uniform” is a tribute to them.
*Santigold’s first hand experience of the American Dream manifesting with her father transforming from a former Philly gang member to become a lawyer with his own law firm and her psychiatrist mother who grew up picking cotton in Mississippi. “The idea that you work hard and then then doors become open.”
“I believe every human being has genius level talent, there is no chosen one…you just have to find what it is that you’re great at and tap into that”—Jay Z
When first hearing about this documentary, I questioned if this would be a decent film or PR for the Jay Z brand since this is his festival. The relationship with us “out the box” critics and Sean Carter is interesting. While the brother can be inspirational, there’s something that make us wonder how much is real and how much is for show. While he’s in the culture, there’s a bit of vulturism. For example, Jay Z speaks about EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and how people think it’s a fad. Here’s my problem with that statement, EDM has been around for decades, maybe not in the form that we hear currently, but nonetheless it’s EDM. Examples would be techno, electronica; music done by Moby, the Prodigy, and the godfather of the genre Giorgio Moroder. To be clear, I admire what Jay Z has done and continues to do. Sometimes we wonder when people in the mainstream (yes, he’s mainstream) latches on to something, do they really appreciate the work or does it add to the so called “cool factor”. Does it benefit Jay Z more than the people the light is shined on with his mentions? Does it become corny with each co-sign or is it that the artists couldn’t live up to that spotlight? I know that may come off as some “hater” mess, but after watching some talent creatives get taken into the fold and then either not heard from again or shells of themselves, how are these not valid questions?
“It’s like the gift and the curse. You know exactly what your life is supposed to be about and then the curse is sometimes what you have to go through to do that.”—Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow
As creatives, we live for when people finally recognize the talent we have, the long road to semi-success. For some of us writers, we want to be in the same mentions with dream hampton, Greg Tate, Bonz Malone. We just want to be heard and respected for our craft we sacrificed time, money, and love ones over. People that didn’t believe in us, wanted us to get a 9 to 5 slave just so we can make ends meet while killing our spirits in the long run. Most of the times, we’re heard it from family and loved ones. This is what makes Made In America a much deeper movie if we look past the main character. People are trying to live their lives in pursuit of the American Dream ideology. Is success measured in what people think of us or how we perceive ourselves? Does success equals what our bank account(s) shows or the happiness we bring to people? How comfortable is comfortable? Lead vocalist of Miike Snow put it all into perspective when talking about his moment of clarity. Working at a country club snack bar during the summer, Andrew Wyatt saw lawyers and their children coming in. He thought for a moment about going back to college and getting a law degree. Realized that even after obtaining the lawyer “dream”, he would still want to make music. “So why not just skip the whole other part and just go to the part that you want to do”. The artist struggle is real; we all just want to do what makes us happy and fulfilled. And that, dear reader, is the American Dream.