Two figures stand face to face surrounded by a ring of rowdy onlookers. One is Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), a legendary rapper, undefeated in the underground rap battle game. The other is Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy) with his girlfriend, Maya (Rory Uphold), the only two white people in the crowd. After Behn’s victorious battle, other rappers go up to congratulate him. Adam stands awkwardly, high fives other rappers when they reach their fists out and gushes about rap with nerdy enthuse. It is this geek-like depiction that catches everyone off guard when he, too, rap battles Behn and becomes a “spit machine.” Behn is shocked, and acknowledges his talent.
Produced by Eminem, “Bodied” is a compelling social commentary that achieves the film’s fundamental goal within the first 10 minutes: to insult everyone. Adam is a graduate student at Berkeley working on his thesis on the role of the n-word in rap, but develops an obsession with battle rapping that puts his social and academic life at risk.
Director Joseph Kahn tackles issues ranging from misogyny, racism and cultural appropriation to political correctness in this smart satire. The film is well balanced, with the comedic moments one would expect from an awkward, stuttering white boy who tries to navigate the world of rap, and dramatic climaxes that manage to make some powerful points about the power of words.
Through Adam, the audience gets to see the clash between two worlds: one that goes to an all-white dinner party with Berkeley’s elite to discuss their negative opinions on rap. The other side goes to basements to watch rappers explicitly attack one another with racial slurs, some taking it too far, even by battle rap standards. The film satirizes the overtly politically correct and those who have a blatant lack of respect for others. It is a satire of Adam himself: a hypocrite who hides underneath an “I’m not racist” facade that shatters once he begins to rap. He’s worse than both the pretentious elite and those that use rap to condone racism.
A pivotal battle toward the end of the film pits mentee against mentor, and reveals Adam’s true nature when he brings Behn’s personal life under attack. Of all the brutal battles in the film, this one is the hardest to watch. Adam’s words are malicious — so caustic that they make the audience cringe. With every insult he spits, it cuts through the tough exterior that Behn puts up.
Several people come up to Adam after the battle, praising him, validating him. It’s ironic, because the words that Adam spits come from a complete lack of respect.
By the end of the film, Adam solidifies himself as a great rapper, but a terrible person. He gains fist bumps of respect, but loses the esteem of the people around him.
“Bodied” uses words to destroy prejudice and stereotypes by pointing them out in the most raw and insulting way possible. It aims to mock everyone so that they are forced to reflect on their own prejudices, or at least recognize the problems with these stereotypes. Words can be used for positive social change, but they can also be destructive and toxic. The film respects the platform that people have to speak their minds, but warns them to choose their words carefully
Email Arin Garland at [email protected]