Monday, January 26, 2009

Notorious Lazy in Depiction of Lil' Kim

I finally had the chance to see Notorious this weekend, and while it's difficult for biopics to be surprising, I still found myself enjoying the film overall. The interesting thing about retelling someone's life, be in book or on film, is the fact that no matter how well you handle the material you'll always be hampered by a third-person handicap that inevitably makes the final product more of an interpretation and less of a reality. In that regard, I would argue that Notorious was lazy in its interpretation, as it offered plenty of material and very little depth. You don't leave Notorious with any new insight into Biggie than you would glean from a Wikipedia article, and that's a bit disappointing. But, that's not what this post is about.

Aside from Biggie's life on the street, and his eventual rap career, a majority of the story told in Notorious centers around his relationships with various women: from his mother and daughter, to Faith Evans and Lil' Kim. While Biggie is certainly depicted as the womanizer he has since been characterized as, via third-person commentary (Kim, Faith, Charli), we also see a side of him that harbored the utmost respect for his mother, and a desire for his daughter to avoid becoming the sort of woman that he was used to taking advantage of. In that regard, there is some diversity in Biggie's treatment of women throughout the film. But what stood out to me most wasn't Biggie's attitude toward women, but how the women in his life responded to that attitude: namely Lil' Kim.

In the weeks preceding the release of Notorious, Kim told various news sources how disappointed she was by her depiction in the film, saying “The film studio and producers involved were more concerned about painting me as a ‘character’ to create a more interesting story line instead of a person with talent, self-respect and who was able to achieve her own career success through hard work."

Based on viewing the film, there's a lot of merit to Kim's argument.

Before viewing the film, a number of people told me how excited they were to go see "Lil' Kim" act like a hoe. This didn't surprise me, as she's spent the better part of her career cultivating that same image for herself. While I'll certainly agree that there's nothing wrong with a woman openly engaging her sexuality, Lil' Kim does so with the explicit intent of engaging men and turning heads, which she would seem to do in an effort to garner commercial attention. That's not progressive, it's tacky. For that reason, I won't comment on the whole of Lil' Kim, but I will approach her depiction in Notorious.

I'll preface this by saying, I don't know Lil' Kim. My entire impression of her is shaped by public domain, and the Kim I'm commenting on in this blog is as seen on film.

That being said, I certainly don't think it's fair to characterize Lil' Kim as a hoe based on what we see in Notorious. Yes, Kim has sex with Biggie fairly soon after meeting him, and yes she spends more time in the movie taking her clothes off, or putting them back on than she does actually speaking, but all of that is subjective. Sexuality is not about appropriating one's behavior to suit social expectations, and in that regard Lil' Kim has as much right to fuck Biggie within five minutes of knowing him, as the next girl has to wait until marriage. Sexual exploits does not a hoe make, but rather loss of self-worth and respect. With that being said, the film doesn't take the time to consider Kim's worth from her perspective at all, so calling her a hoe based on what we're given is far from apt, and really just lazy.

Instead, I would argue that Kim is a sentimental character. She comes to Biggie looking for protection, and without her even asking, he promises it to her. We're led to believe that upon meeting Biggie, Kim is at a place in her life where she needs someone to lean on, and I don't feel like it's appropriate to fault her for falling for the dream he was selling. It doesn't seem like Kim is looking for a come up, or to take advantage of Biggie in any way. We're given the impression that she comes looking for affection; and when he makes it so readily available, why wouldn't she believe that it's genuine?

More than that, the film also suggests that Biggie more or less dropped Kim instantly for Faith, and that sudden lost of interest, paired with their continued sexual relationship makes it understandable that Kim would have some animosity toward Evans, and find it difficult to walk away from Biggie. Kim never justifies the title of home-wrecker in the film, as the tension Between her, Faith, and Biggie is more a product of his selfish behavior.

That's Lil' Kim as presented by the plot, but it's important to acknowledge what goes on between the lines, and perhaps that's what best supports Lil' Kim's argument about her negative depiction in the film.

It's a problem that we see Kim's breasts in the movie nearly an hour before we actually hear her name. If one were to view the movie without any prior knowledge of Biggie, and his life and legacy, it would be easy to assume that Kim was just some random girl from the hood for the first half of the film. It's more of a problem that the whole of Kim's identity is shaped in the single moment that sees Biggie telling her to trade in hardcore lyrics for explicit sex appeal, which changes her entire character angle in a single moment. Of all the women in Biggie's life, Kim is never given any agency, nor sense of self, so that in the end her character is flat and pitiful, and doesn't function as anything more than sexual gratification, both in plot and for the audience. Many will be quick to assert that this is an accurate portrayal, but it'd be remiss to suggest that even the most hapless of hoes doesn't have some sort of depth or personality.

I would argue that Kim's portrayal in the film is less of an insult to her, and more of a comment on how apt our society is to generalize individuals for the sake of comfort. I don't believe Notorious' filmmakers knew how to approach Lil' Kim's presence in Biggie's life, and instead of rising to a challenge, they fell back on public perception and speculation. And while I would argue that it was irresponsible for them to do so, audience anticipation and response to Kim's character suggest that they were only giving the fans what they wanted; which, to say the least, is really saddening.

I don't too much care for Lil' Kim, but I like to think that I respect women enough to acknowledge that her portrayal in Notorious isn't an insult to hoes, but instead a marginalization of feminine sexuality that ultimately harms the entire sex.

1 comment:

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Biggie's treatment of women throughout the film. But what stood out to me most wasn't Biggie's attitude toward women, but how the women in his life responded to that attitude: namely Lil' Kim.