The world that the film takes place is set below the 8 Mile Road divide in 1990s Detroit. On the surface, the subject matter seems more akin to a teenage feel good film than a serious drama. The plot centers on the tribulations of a poor white rapper nicknamed Rabbit who is competing with African-American colleagues. His goals are fairly obvious: he competitively raps in order to stand out from the crowd. The intended goal here is to gain a fan following that will translate into a record deal. However, due to economic and cultural barriers, he appears held down and unable to draw attention to his talent.
This is his plight and this plight also defines his goal. It is through the narrative of the film, the journey of achieving this goal is presented. And, within this journey, a unique perspective into urban renewal, economic divides, and racial segregation is presented. In this essay, a look at the film through the prism of these thre racially charged areas will be presented. Urban Renewal By definition, urban renewal refers to the controversial notion that businesses and properties can be reconstructed in order to improve an environment.
Now, some may wonder what is so controversial about improving real estate and business districts. The controversy stems from the relocation (dislocation) of the people who live in the neighborhood. In other words, the urban areas are purchased for redevelopment and the people who live there must move on. There is nothing gained by those who are displaced. This is where the root controversy lies. In his article, The Questions of Earning a Living, W. E. B. Dubois emphasizes the problems associated with urban renewal:
under the circumstances of modem life, any group of people can earn a decent living, so as to maintain their standard of life, is not always easy to answer. But when the question is complicated by the fact that the group has a low degree of efficiency on account of previous training; is in competition with well-trained, eager and often ruthless competitors; is more or less handicapped by a somewhat wide¬ reaching discrimination. That is, urban renewal comes about because the people of an area have become abandoned. From this sense of abandonment, an outlook of life develops.
This outlook is often transferred to the arts and, in the case of this film, rapping. So, to many, Rabbit can never be a true rapper since he does not understand the true plight of urban renewal and how it creates the heart and soul of rapping. This is further evidenced in the themes of economic divide present in the film. Economic Divide The title of the film is representative of the economic divide that exists. Specifically, the 8 Mile Road refers to a boundary line in Detroit that separates the urban African-American communities in the urban regions from the affluent white suburbs.
Of course, the line represents more than a geographic difference. It also represents a cultural and economic divide as well. Therefore, a question arises here. Can Rabbit be an effective rapper if he comes from the other side of the 8 Mile? Or, is he doomed to changing his image to become more of a Vanilla Ice style rapper? Clearly, this is not what Rabbit wants. It is not in his nature. However, being self righteous will not yield a successful career since many obstacles are placed in Rabbits way.
Mainly, can Rabbit be taken seriously as a rapper and can he cross the great divide of economic disparity? This is further explored in the racial segregation aspect of the film. Racial Segregation The fact that the communities south of 8 Mile are predominantly Black poses a serious challenge for a white rapper. For Rabbit, these complexities expand due to his own insecurities. He collapses under judgments of his skill and this is compounded by the racial component of him being the wrong color. Ironically, Du Bois mentions something very similar in his essay The Philadelphia Negro.
In it, Du Bois mentions Men are used to seeing Negroes in inferior positions; when, therefore by any chance a Negro gets in a better position, most men immediately conclude that he is no fitted for it, even before he has a chance to show his fitness. (The City Reader, 106) In the final battle scene, Du Bois example is displayed but the racial roles have ironically been reversed. In this climatic scene, Rabbits insecurities have caused him to freeze but he pulls from his own internal resolve when he returns to the stage. His rap centers on his downfalls and insecurities.
, I am white, I am a fucking bum, I do live in a trailer with my mom¦(8 Mile, 1:36). Doing this allows him to assimilate with the black male living in Detroit. This allows him to add power and emotion to his rap. This essentially gives him the credibility to be taken seriously as a rapper.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Question of Earning a Living. Originally published in the Philadelphia Negro, 1899. Du Bois, W. E. B. The Negro Problems of Philadelphia. Originally published in the Philadelphia Negro, 1899. Hansen, C. (Director). (2001). 8 Mile. [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal.