Isaac Julien (“Young Soul Rebels”) steps into documentary feature territory with sure-footed results in “Darker Side of Black,” an intelligent overview of black pop culture that examines the social, cultural and political influences of rap and ragga music, with particular emphasis on its growing homophobic content. Public TV and musicvideo webs should make space for this stimulating study, made for British pubcaster BBC’s “Arena” docu series.
Julien maintains a healthy critical distance as he addresses a series of issues and their relation to contempo black music. Gun culture, urban violence, drugs, machismo, misogyny, religion, the sexual dynamics of dance-club culture and aggressive power in music as a substitute for societal strength all provide a complex arena for debate.
Docu points out that the emerging anti-gay strain is arguably the black music scene’s only flagrant incitement to violence. The can of worms was opened by Jamaican ragga musician Buju Banton’s 1992 release “Boom Bye Bye,” whose lyrics urge that lesbians and gay men be ferreted out and eliminated. The singer’s views are more or less mirrored by Shabba Ranks, a star in the U.S. and an advocate of crucifixion for gays.
Imaginatively lit talking-head interviews and well-chosen musicvid clips lend the docu a snappy visual texture that takes its heavy diet of facts and opinions beyond the constraints of investigative journalism. An occasional tendency toward poetic rumination in the linking voiceover is the only jarring element.