It’s a fascinating occurrence when a musician tries their hand at acting. There have been a number of brilliant instances of hip-hop stars rocking up on the big screen, including Ice Cube in Friday and Boyz N Da Hood and Tupac in Juice and Poetic Justice. But let’s not forget about Eminem in 8 Mile, which was released 20 years ago today.
The film was written by Scott Silver and directed by Curtis Hanson. It was also Eminem’s film debut and was partly influenced by autobiographical elements of his own life. Narratively, the film follows Eminem’s character Jimmy Smith (aka B-Rabbit), as he tries to make a name for himself in the Detroit hip-hop scene.
The film takes its name from 8 Mile Road, a stretch of highway between the mostly black-populated Detroit and the northern white neighbourhoods where Eminem grew up in. Eminem said of the title, “8 Mile is where I grew up, the boundary line, almost the colour line, white from black. That’s what the movie is about, about this guy who is in the same struggle and predicament. Just trying to make it, the whole white/black thing, the whole poor thing.”
8 Mile is a brilliant dramatic exposition of the Detroit hip-hop scene in the 1990s, where several of its members worked in blue-collar factory jobs, including Jimmy. Given the fact that it was Eminem’s first-ever acting role, he perfectly portrayed the character, especially during the scenes where he has difficulties with his alcoholic stepmother.
So too, Eminem effortlessly depicts the shy white boy who grew up in a predominantly black city, trying to make it in a music scene that is also heavily indebted to its black members. However, some parts of the film feel a little forced at times, such as his relationship with Brittany Murphy’s Alex.
Perhaps one of the best features of 8 Mile, though, is the fact that it served as a further conduit for Eminem to release his music that was, in 2002, at the height of its popularity. In fact, the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’. Not only this, but the rap battle scenes are some of the film’s best and leave you invested in Jimmy and hopeful that he can achieve his dreams.
Eminem ultimately had to put his fame and confidence to one side and tap into parts of his past in order to successfully portray Jimmy Smith. And he did so. Eminem said of his role, “I had to strip myself of ego and everything and go back and put myself in that position where I was reserved and shy. Where I had it in me, but I wasn’t quite sure how to bring it out in a positive way and show people. Those jitters; ‘I’m scared, I’m not scared’. That early struggle, you know.”
Check out the trailer for 8 Mile below and an interview with Eminem discussing the film.