Hip Hop Gone Wild: The Aftermath

This article also available as a podcast here.

Photo by Yuvraj Singh on Unsplash. Photo description: a hand holding a lighter in the dark close to a piece of paper.

“Movin’ forward

Pressing onward, strivin’ further

Keep on laughin’

Keep on livin’, keep on lovin’, yeah

Keep on dreamin’

Keep on achievin’, keep on believin’

I keep smilin’ when I come through

And I cry when I need to”

-Jill Scott1

   It’s 2022! It has been over a year since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests (once again, specifying BLM of 2020 because the movement’s message spans way before it hit the mainstream media). In 2020 we saw countless outdoor companies and nonprofits coming forward with statements of solidarity: a random, out of touch promise based on the lack of Black people in these companies. Scroll down on their social media page to see smiling white faces or gear in white hands. The disconnect between the reality they portray and the message they amplified that year was obvious.

   How have these companies and nonprofits been amplifying this message years after 2020? Let’s zoom in on a particular entity called No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF) and explore this question.

   In 2020 I was fighting my own small battle: one of having enough of the outdoor industry using Black culture. It was not a new feeling. The article Hip Hop in Climbing came to fruition after viewing the video Hip Hop Gone Wild: a film funded and debuted by NMLFF. In order to have proper history and why it was so offensive, read the article here first.

   To get an idea of the timeline of events, here is a list of pertinent events that happened, which will be discussed in more detail:

  • January 2020: I attended NMLFF which included the film Hip Hop Gone Wild
  • May 2020: I wrote a public Instagram post on my personal page speaking out against the film Hip Hop Gone Wild
  • June 2020: NMLFF issues a statement on the film Hip Hop Gone Wild rightfully condemning it
  • June 2020: NMLFF announces a Black filmmaker grant
  • April 2021: Hip Hop in Climbing article released on Rock Rose Blog
  • January 2021: NMLFF brings back Black Filmmaker grant and adds an Indigenous Filmmaker grant and other inclusive practices
Description: the words hip hop gone wild in multiple colors with a tree as the I in wild with a blue splash background and purple backdrop.

   NMLFF funded the film Hip Hop Gone Wild. After going public with my concerns, NMLFF issued a public statement: “We recognized that Hip Hop Gone Wild caused harm by co-opting Black culture and because of that, it was officially removed from the NMLFF Tour Program in 2018. We are deeply sorry for the pain and discomfort that this film and the showing of it has caused people, especially members of the Black community.”2

   Again, what a strange coincidence that I viewed the wrong year’s festival due to a host downloading error in 2020. How many Black people had seen this, been offended, and felt alone in feeling that way will never be quantified. Tied to that, the engagement of Black people with NMLFF previous to 2020 will also remain a mystery. And how have they made moves to change this?

   They go on to say, “NMLFF is committed to being a deliberate part of this long-overdue change. As we continue to shift gears with new leadership, in 2021 we will open our first-ever Filmmaker Grant to only Black filmmakers, storytellers, and athletes. We wish to further amplify the voices of the Black community to facilitate them in telling their stories.”3

   Statements such as these have been seen all over the internet after 2020. The real question is: has this entity truly grown from its choices beyond a one time promise spurred by this blog?

   Several different demographics must be examined in relation to their policies: gender, race, and disability. The first and most obvious choice to examine would be gender, since the film festival seeks to serve specific demographics of gender for film grant selection.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash. Description: a person’s naked torso with breasts painted in a glittery rainbow pattern with a backlit blank background.

   In 2020 and probably before “[t]he criteria [to apply for a festival grant] is ‘an opportunity for woman-identified filmmakers, storytellers and athletes to come together and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.’ Men can and often are involved as indicated by films with an all male production crew such as Mothered by Mountains showcased in their 2019 festival.”4 This quote is from Hip Hop in Climbing Part IV: Climbing Demographics and Inclusion.

   Fast forward to 2022, their mission statement now includes “Moving forward, NMLFF revised its mission statement in 2020 to create safe and inclusive platforms that further champion women, transgender, and gender-fluid communities with grit, hustle, determination, and boundless passion, investing them with the respect, support, and media recognition they deserve.”5

   The submission criteria has also been revised with “…films that feature female, transgender, and genderqueer athletes who un-define feminine. Production, cinematography, etc, are not required to be fully run by women-identified individuals…We are looking for films that inspire adventure and have an empowered lead.”6 Further calling in transgender and gender non conforming individuals is a huge undertaking necessary for the LGBTQIA2S+ community and on any spectrum that experiences gender oppression. And a statement of transgender in general instead of specifying transgender women also shows inclusion for a transgender men who are not always fully comfortable or acknowledged in spaces that are gender binary dominated.

   Having defined what gender demographic the festival is attempting to engage with and showcase, we can look at the added identity of race. The new policy brought forth in the form of a reserved grant is “open to Black female and gender non conforming filmmakers only.”7 Their Indigenous Grant also echoes the same inclusive language. In any affinity space there should be reserved resources such as this for Black and Indigenous people because blanket policies most often leave people in the minority behind. The majority of people with disabilities in the outdoors are not people of color which is something to take into consideration also. Having a disability also makes someone a minority in the outdoors, but what happens when that minority is also not majority people of color? Read more about the phenomenon of minorities finding themselves as a majority in When the Minority Becomes the Majority.

Photo by Jens Theeß on Unsplash. Description: a wheelchair in the small waves of a beach with blue skies.

   And what of disability? We cannot talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice without disability and access. NMLFF has taken a step even further to put in place more equitable practices. They have added closed captioning and ASL interpreters for panel discussions for people who are D/deaf8, hearing impaired, and hard of hearing. This should truly be standard for all film festivals and panels.

   This creates access for a viewer with a disability; the only next step would be to include more filmmakers who are disabled and/or have a specific film grant for them. Having a chat with Kathy Karlo (she/her), the Executive Director of NMLFF, she expressed: “We will continue to offer our “Diversify Our Outdoors” Film Program to all audiences. Our 2022 “Diversify Our Outdoors” Program has been updated to reflect plus-sized, transgender + genderqueer, Black, Brown, and Asian athletes and athletes with disabilities.”

   As the outdoor industry continues to grow with more affinity spaces, we continue to hold strong our rhetoric of storytelling done by individuals who are from the community they are focused on. Let’s keep in mind that people with disabilities are not a monolith: not everyone in this group is the same. However, if someone from one of those specific communities of people with a disability wanted to tell a story which revolved around disabled experiences, they should have every opportunity to do so. And just like any minority demographic, people with disabilities slip between the cracks when blanket policies are in place such as general filmmaker grants.

  Filmmakers with disabilities should also have the opportunity to storytell in general. Just as Black or Indigenous people do not always make films centered around racial experience, filmmakers who are disabled also need the creative freedom to make whatever they wish. It is the policy that matters here: a policy which would recognize the financial assistance they may need and yet allow them the creative freedom they deserve.

Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash. Description: a movie theater with red, empty seats and a row of black stairs in the center.

   Where are all the outdoor filmmakers who are disabled? People with disabilities have been the star of outdoor films made by people without disabilities (A New Kind of Physical Therapy with Kareemah Batts10 or Vasu Sojitra: Out on a Limb11 or A Grand Pursuit12 come to mind).

   Once again, taking to social media the call was put out. And it is sad to say that I was unable to find any filmmakers who are disabled that focus on the outdoors.

   This is not to say there aren’t any. Other general organizations such as FWD-Doc exist as “…a group of filmmakers with disabilities (FWDs) working in documentary film — and our active allies. We believe that coming together as a community allows us to support each other and advocate for ourselves with greater power.”13 Or ReelAbilities which “…is the largest festival in the US dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities…the festival presents award winning films by and about people with disabilities…Post-screening discussions and other engaging programs bring together the community to explore, discuss, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.”14

   Specifically, ReelAbilities has a plethora of films with a vast array of topics which includes outdoor films.15 I do wonder, however, how many films centering the outdoors focus on disabilities which are not visible. Films obviously focus on visuals and when one can see the disability it goes along smoothly with the medium of delivery, but what of the disabilities not lending themselves as readily to the eyes? For filmmakers with disabilities, how do we hold space and honor them if their disability is not visible?

   FWD-Doc brought a widely untold story in their film Crip Camp. When talking about the film, they express: “I think it was a complicated space to lots of people because there were folks with invisible disabilities who were present, but not necessarily comfortable to talk about their experience. And lots of people were navigating their own identities, their own comfort with disclosure and their own ableism.”16 There is such a wide spectrum of disability that a lot of times it can get overlooked by people who are not disabled.

Photo by Jo Hilton on Unsplash. Description: two hands each holing the thumb to the middle finger in black and white photography

 Talking more to Kathy Karlo, a few other items of note to take into account their new inclusion work: “Our 2022 film programming is over 51% diverse, showcasing athletes of color, disability and are gender-diverse. Over 85% of our 2022 Flagship Festival guest speakers show a more accurate representation of what the outdoor adventure community looks like. All of our guest speakers are compensated for their time, travel, and lodging. Of note, one of our guests is the 2021 recipient of No Man’s Land Film Festival Pitchfest Grant, awarded to a Black filmmaker amplifying the voices of their community. All persons involved in our Denver event have been hired and paid for their time, efforts, and talents…

   Our 2020 – 2022 “Diversify Our Outdoors” Program has been updated to include the current years’ films and will continue to amplify Black voices in our community. The original virtual launch of our “Diversify Our Outdoors” Program in 2020 resulted in a $3,000 to our friends at Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit organization and network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature….

   As a non-profit organization and team, NMLFF unequivocally supports Black, Brown, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, and Indigenous voices. As a woman who is also of color, it has been my highest priority since stepping into this role in 2019 to include more personal stories that allow people to stand tall in their truth and work on engaging an audience of all demographics. There is a clear difference between not being discriminatory and being inclusive, and as an organization + community, we strive to be inclusive. It is a conscious effort driven by many outside forces, but one of the most important being: when you don’t see yourself in the media, you begin feeling as if you’re not a part of the culture and that you don’t belong. Film + storytelling has the power of doing that.”

   A small part of me wants to yell: “Redemption!” But those of us truly doing the work know that the work is never done: we are always striving to learn in order to truly uplift diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice principles. However, No Man’s Land Film Festival has indeed shown unmistakable growth and thoughtfulness in their policy changes. I applaud their commitment as their 7th annual Flagship Festival kicks off today. Press onward and strive further.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash. Description: a Black femal presenting person with straight blond hair dressed in all black holding one fist above their head with green leaves of a tree in the background

A special thanks to Kareemah Batts for resources and guidance.

Works Cited

  1. “I Keep.” YouTube, uploaded by Jill Scott, 31 Jul 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9RfOuYXgKw
  2.  “Regarding Hip Hop Gone Wild.” http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/blog/hip-hop-gone-wild, 28 Jan 2022
  3. “Regarding Hip Hop Gone Wild.” http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/blog/hip-hop-gone-wild, 28 Jan 2022
  4. H., CrystalRose. “Hip Hop in Climbing: Part IV.” https://rockrose.blog/2021/04/30/hip-hop-in-climbing-part-iv/, 28 Jan 2022
  5. “Welcome to No Man’s Land.” http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/about-home, 28 Jan 2022
  6. “So You Made a Film About a Woman.” 28 Jan 2022 http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/filmmakers, 28 Jan 2022
  7. “So You Made a Film About a Woman.” 28 Jan 2022 http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/filmmakers, 28 Jan 2022
  8. “The difference between D/deaf, hard of hearing and hearing-impaired.” https://www.connecthear.org/post/the-difference-between-d-deaf-hard-of-hearing-and-hearing-impaired,  30 Jan 2022
  9. “A new kind of physical therapy-rock climbing for people with disabilities.” https://www.kareemahbatts.com/videos/a-new-kind-of-physical-therapy-rock-climbing-for-people-with-disabilities, 2 March 2022.
  10.  “Out on a Limb.” http://www.vasusojitra.com/projects/out-on-a-limb, 2 March 2022
  11.  “A Grand Persuit.” https://reelabilities.org/film/a-grand-pursuit/, 2 March 2022
  12.  “FWD-Doc: Documentary Filmmakers With Disabilities.” https://www.fwd-doc.org/, 15 Feb 2022
  13.  “About Us.” https://reelabilities.org/about-us/, 15 February 2022
  14. “Directory.” https://reelabilities.org/film-directory/, 15 February 2022
  15.  “FWD-Doc: Empowering Filmmakers with Disabilities.” https://www.documentary.org/feature/fwd-doc-empowering-filmmakers-disabilities, 10 February 2022

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