On the first day of filming Player Hating, Maggie Hadleigh-West was robbed at gunpoint in a New York City public housing project. Certainly not an auspicious beginning, but she knew that risk was part of the tough territory she was broaching in trying to profile disenfranchised men, whether they were thugs, victims of violence, aspiring rappers, or all three. She ended up filming in a different housing project and following different subjects than on her first attempt, and her movie is stunning. She manages to get behind the posturing and hype that often overwhelm media about hip-hop or gangs.
Much of the film follows the rapper Half-a-Mill (aka Jasun Wardlaw), who was then working toward release of the album Milion. Hadleigh-West chose to follow him because he was climbing in the music industry, he was willing to talk with her extensively, and he was willing to open up his world to her. His circle of friends and performers, the Godfia Criminals, provide some of the most stark interviews and moments.
The men in the film are candid about their lives, including their friends, relationships, poverty, the struggle to make ends meet, being victims of violence, being instigators of violence, wounds on their bodies, selling crack and more. As the film goes on, ever more about the men is revealed — some of it tragic, some of it brutal — and she develops a great sense of empathy for some guys who many people would typically not want to meet on the street.
There's more on the film here. It opens at Cafe Istanbul Saturday. Former City Council president Oliver Thomas hosts a discussion after the 7 p.m. screening.