Idol Chatter

Given our cultural obsession with the new and the novel, perhaps nothing is as daunting as following initial success. The sophomore slump can hamper creative efforts and lead to artistic blocks or overreaching.

In 2005, director Craig Brewer (at right, with me) hit the Sundance jackpot with “Hustle and Flow.” Brewer’s simmering tale of a pimp who dreams of rap stardom sold to MTV Films for $9 million. “Hustle and Flow” also won the Sundance Audience Award, receiving rousing ovations. It elevated actor Terrence Howard as a suave leading man and took Memphis’ Three-6 Mafia to a surprising Oscar win for their anthemic song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

Lost amidst the hoopla was a smoldering redemption story. DJay the pimp decides to change his life after a transcendent musical moment inside a church. Sitting in a lonely pew, DJay sheds a tear and starts recording his raps. “Hustle and Flow” follows a specific Memphis milieu, merging hip hop music and black spirituality.

In 2007, Brewer returns here to Sundance with his follow-up film, “Black Snake Moan.” He is working with a bigger budget and bigger stars, Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. The soundtrack deals with the blues rather than rap. “Black Snack Moan” also pushes the provocation further, combining issues of race, sexuality, and power. Will redemptive themes emerge amidst all the button pushing?

Brewer has already gone to great lengths to overcome the sophomore slump. Promotional pieces emphasize that “Black Snake Moan” is his fourth feature (even though few have seen or heard of what preceded “Hustle and Flow”). Brewer’s situation demonstrates how hard it is to build lasting art within a society that favors the new and undiscovered. Can ancient virtues of character prevail in an industry that seeks the next big thing? We’ll find out at the premiere of “Black Snake Moan” on Wednesday night.

–Posted by Craig Detweiler

Craig Detweiler is a screenwriter and director of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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