October 2002
Brown Sugar

Reviewed by Niija Kuykendall

Brown Sugar

Distritubtor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Producers: Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Peter Heller, Trish Hofmann
Screenwriters: Michael Elliot, Rick Famuyiwa
Director of Photogaphy: Enrique Chediak
Music: Barry Cole, Christopher Covert, Robert Hurst
Cast: Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Mos Def, Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah

Brown Sugar is a beautifully rendered ode to hip hop and the joy that was had back in the day of innocence, expression and art. The romantic comedy keeps audiences engaged in the story and plain enthralled by the beauty of our folks with an ensemble cast including Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe. The work is the latest of Rick Famuyiwa, director of The Wood and proven midhusband of visceral nostalgia and memory for the hip-hop generation. Brown Sugar is a visual asset roster of the who’s who of young Black Hollywood as well as a roll-call for old school/neo-old school hip hop heads replete with cameos from Russell Simmons, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Common, ?uestlove, Black Thought, Jermaine Dupri and more. Throughout the film we chuckle in humorous agreement about what it meant and still means, on a good day that is, to be hopelessly in love with each other and that socio-economic force called hip hop.

Now that hip hop is an inextricably tangled web of pop candy culture, capitalism and tragedy, we’re seeing more and more tributes to the-way-it-was in the form of museum exhibits, documentaries and retrofied b-boys selling tagged caps on the streets of NYC. Added to the fray is Famuyiwa’s metaphoric story about Sidney (Lathan) and Dre (Diggs), childhood friends turned music bigwigs who are afraid to face their adult love for each other and in that fear of love afraid to face their adult hopes and dreams for the constantly transitioning music that brought them together.

Sidney is a respected hip hop journalist struggling through a search for that original passion for the culture that is now difficult for her to express as a woman in a man’s sexist playground. Dre is a successful music label executive taking a bite out of commercialized hip hop’s capitalistic pie but he just can’t seem to convince himself that he is following his heart. The two friends are brought back together after Sidney moves back to her childhood home of New York. The supporting cast is just as delightful as the main couple with Queen Latifah and Mos Def, two rap artists/thespians, keeping the audience chuckling with their down-to-earth portrayals of Sidney’s best friend (Latifah) and Dre’s new artist/sidekick (Mos Def). Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe, both of Showtime’s Soul Food fame, play their parts as Sidney and Dre’s sexy diversions from each other.

The film, which continued to shoot in New York City during the days and months following the 9/11 tragedy, is not only a big-up to hip hop culture but also a visual love poem to the city in which hip hop was born. Famuyiwa and Enrique Chediak, Director of Photography, got beautiful shots of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn with tight editing keeping the traditional shots funky and interesting. Threads of reality, memory and fiction are woven together as the story is not only Sidney and Dre’s love story but also several real accounts and inferences of how the filmmakers and members of the hip hop community fell in love with hip hop themselves. Conclusively the film is a smart twist to the urban romantic comedy genre and a pleasure to watch.


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