Hip Hop in Climbing: Final Words

This article also available as a podcast here.

In the beginning there were 3 friends who went to a film festival and were shocked and horrified by what we saw.  Perhaps the most gut wrenching part about it was the intent behind attending this film festival was to possibly partner and host a No Man’s Land film festival by Climbers of Color.  There was absolutely no way our organization could have ever shown that film and stood by it.

Feeling angry, frustrated, and confused I did email the No Man’s Land film festival telling them we would not be interested in hosting their films. 

Since the writing of this article, a few items of note have happened. What spurred me to speak out against this film? And is it enough? What has No Man’s Land Film Festival expressed after hearing how I felt about the film? What have the filmmakers expressed?

Let’s start with why it took me so long to speak out against the film Hip Hop Gone Wild. We attended the NML film festival February 22nd, 2020. After attending, I emailed them to say we would not be affiliating our organization with them and would appreciate our space. They asked why and I expressed my disgust for the film. They then told me the film was last year’s festival and the host had mistakenly downloaded the incorrect year. Talk about the right place at the right time. And I was not offered a viewing of the current year. Worst customer service ever. And that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

Until it kept creeping into my conversations with other people who actually got to see the current year’s festival. They all had no idea what I was talking about and one day someone told me it was on Youtube. I wanted to confirm that I was not overreacting when I saw Becca Droz’s response to one well meaning white woman who talked openly about her being uncomfortable. It was the last straw for me. I understood now and saw very clearly what I had to do.

“Hip hop is evolving, our outdoor culture is evolving and we are evolving as individuals, nothing stays the same (hopefully). While hip hop culture did originate through people of color, this does not mean that hip hop must stay in this place.”1Becca Droz Youtube comment. Going back to not everything is for everybody, this is especially true for historically oppressive entities such as white people to black people, among others. This inflated sense of ownership is what some refer to as ontological expansiveness. “As ontologically expan-sive, white people tend to act and think as if all spaces – whether geographi-cal, psychical, linguistic, economic, or otherwise – are or should be available to them to move in and out as they wish.”2 

And she takes it a step further: “…while it might feel icky that so often white people are borrowing from the creations of people of color, this is part of how art progresses and always has and I’m sorry if it feels like it represents negative aspects of cultural appropriation.”3Becca Droz Youtube comment. I cannot stress enough how frustrating and selfish this statement is that I have to borrow words from another to articulate this. “…White people tend to think of themselves as though they are the only people to exist or have worth in the world. This mentality is largely facilitated by the tendency for White people to be both physically and socially isolated from People of Color.”4 Art entering the mainstream white world does not validate that art. It may come with money and more widespread recognition in general, but it does not and will never make it’s worth more.

I had read enough and I did something I had never done before: turned to social media. I temporarily made my own Instagram public and wrote a scathing post about it in May of 2020. It came from a place of anger, but it was the beginning of something. And I would like to thank Erin Monahan for recognizing something great in me and encouraging me to flesh out the post into an entire article. This is all thanks to you. I am forever grateful for jump starting my public writing.

From there people viewed and shared it and it had the usual social media limelight for a minute. Lizzy Van Patten did grace it with a statement and no response from Becca Droz or No Man’s Land.

I have since never heard from either of these people or entities. Both Lizzy and NML posted in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. And I always specify 2020 because this fight has been going on way longer than “mainstream white media” has showcased it. As a person whose main form of protection against racism has been flight, I have never sought out either to talk this through.

No Man’s Land Film festival issued an official statement5 and a Black filmmaker’s grant for 2021 in reaction to the situation. I hope they get more diversity on their board as well to question future films’ impact. And I hope the readers of this article strive to pay and include talent already out there, waiting for a grant or long deserved limelight.

Is it enough? What prejudices or unconscious bias do guides, climbers, and film festivals harbor in women’s only spaces that leak out in their teaching, interactions, and showcasing? What will be enough to rid these biases? We may never know fully, but we as Black climbers/artists/guides/filmmakers shall continue to move forward, ever forward regardless.

Ase, Crystal

Inspiration music for this article: “WATER (IF ONLY THEY KNEW) ft. Mahalia.” YouTube, uploaded by KOJEY RADICAL, 19 Jun 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6CbtXl2JUM.

Works Cited

  1. “HIP HOP GONE WILD.” YouTube, uploaded by Becca Droz, 23 Sep 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAUZ3NBFx_w.

2.  https://brill.com/view/book/9789004444836/BP000065.xml

3. “HIP HOP GONE WILD.” YouTube, uploaded by Becca Droz, 23 Sep 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAUZ3NBFx_w.

4.  https://brill.com/view/book/9789004444836/BP000065.xml

5. http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/blog-1/hip-hop-gone-wild

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