Made in AmericaCultureCinemaMovie reviews
Award-winning director Ron Howard, widely known for his Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind, teams up with hip-hop mogul Jay-Z to document a two-day music festival cultivated by the rapping superstar himself. But Made in America is more than just a film about an outdoor concert, big names and screaming crowds. It’s an assessment of the American Dream in an economic downturn: “Out of great tragedy, creativity is born. People are pulling themselves up from the bootstring.” You get the feeling that Jay-Z wants us to know that music and people can bring about change. A little patronising from a man who now paves the way for colossal projects like the Barclays Center and the restoration of Nassau Coliseum? Or does he simply speak from his own life-changing experience? He is, after all, a man who has come a long way from his drug-dealing background.
According to Jay-Z: “Every human being has genius level talent – you just have to find out what you’re great at and tap into it.” If only it was always that simple! Life has a habit of throwing curveballs and a few rolling boulders at your feet. But Jay-Z has the answer to that one too: “Gift is the curse. It is what you have to go through to get there.” So there we have it – find what you’re good at and stick with it, no matter what else is going on around you. And we shouldn’t be afraid of failure: “I’ve had a bunch of them,” he reminds us. Still, that’s fighting talk in an economy that has been dormant for years.
So what is Made in America about? Is Jay-Z simply preaching to us, motivating us to do better, giving us hope that anything is still possible in the land of dreams? That seems to be the message. There is talk about a changing tide amid the growing influence of the tea party, as people reject corporations to venture out on their own, spread their wings and return to grassroots. Cut to a stagehand who is grateful for the work and a food seller who by her own initiative seems to have “made a killing” from the event.
What’s interesting about Made in America is that it has evolved from Jay-Z’s vision of uniting communities in a moment of opportunity, a time in which people cannot be divided, even by their taste in music. Artists from pop songstress Rita Ora to electronic sensation Skrillex perform to a buoyant audience. We also hear from hip-hop hasbeen Run DMC who crowd-please with their revival of hits It’s Tricky and Walk This Way, and neo-soul singer-songwriter D’Angelo who confides his struggle in balancing the commercial aspect to his talent with artistic integrity. Other artists featured include Kanye West, The Hives and Jill Scott who wows the crowd with soothing, powerful vocals. Even an elderly local resident who finds the whole experience “annoying” because of the “bang bang” music can’t fail to succumb to Scott’s singing.
Is it one to watch? If you’re hoping for a Jay-Z-centric documentary, then you will be disappointed by the fleeting glimpses into his life story. But if you’re looking for an enlightening, entertaining documentary and a few laughs then you can rest assured in knowing that your money will have been well spent.
Watch the trailer for Made in America here: