From “Wild in the Streets” to “The Hip Hop Project”

When people ask me what happened to the youth activism movement of the 1960s and 70s, I usually try to explain that when the protests and picketing and battles of those days happened, the media painted them as the novelty of a wayward generation. This allowed adults to sympathize or empathize, and drove positive publicity towards their efforts as well. While those years were riddled with bad press for young people, from my analysis of a variety of sources the condemnation, alienation and general anger towards youth in those days was almost a reversal from today.

Case in point: In 1968 a low-budget movie called Wild in the Streets was released across the United States. In this movie the oppression of young life overwhelms a suburban-type genius fifteen-year-old lawyer, who decides to throw off the shackles of adultism by launching a campaign to lower the voting age to 14 with the song “14 or Fight!” by his band. Protests supporting the campaign happen across the nation, a 15-year-old is elected to the U.S. Senate, and the long and short of it is that there is a tremendous uprising among youth everywhere. Eventually the lawyer becomes the country’s first 15-year-old President, lowering the mandatory retirement age to 30, sending all over 35-year-olds to “re-education camps”, and permanently doping all adults with LSD. Eventually armies are disbanded, global society reconfigured, and… other stuff.

This was a wildly sensational movie, even for 1968. It treats any notion of youth empowerment as a crazy, loco idea that can – and likely will – spiral towards oblivion… Which brings me to The Hip Hop Project.

In an era where young African American males are routinely portrayed as incapable learners, criminalized thugs and brutish social miscreants, it is great to see a movie that realizes authentic African American youth culture for what it is: fresh, vibrant, and largely unobtainable to white youth. Its that white kids just don’t get it – myself included. The Hip Hope Project is about a group of young people in NYC who use art to change their own lives, and affect the lives of those around them. With Bruce Willis, Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh, the movie comes off as fresh, and invigorating.

But the amazing part of the second film is that there wasn’t any grandstanding or obvious.

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