'Hip Hop' beats its R rap


NEW YORK -- Despite 17 uses of the word "fuck," the MPAA's Ratings Review Board gave a PG-13 rating to ThinkFilm's docu "The Hip Hop Project" after its R rating was appealed by director Matt Ruskin and the film's rapper subject, Chris "Kazi" Rolle.

The film, executive produced by Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, follows the once-homeless rapper as he helps a group of poor New York teens deal with their frustrations by making a hip-hop album. "Project" follows their four-year journey, including studio time funded by Willis and producer Russell Simmons.

Six of the panel's eight members agreed to change the rating, which was issued for the film's language. "We decided to appeal the R rating to allow teenagers access to see this film because they are the ones who need it most," said Rolle, founder of the offscreen Hip Hop Project. "After years of working with teens, I know you have to reach them when they are young. Just as I didn't have a parent to take me to the movies when I was a teenager, many of the young people who would benefit most from this film would have been denied access if the R rating stood."

Ruskin told the board, "This motion picture is a call to end the destructive forces of violence, misogyny and criminality that dominate the music our children are listening to."

In a recent statement from his Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Simmons expressed similar sentiments and called for the elimination of the n-word, "ho" and "bitch" in rap lyrics.

A precedent was set by Michael Tucker's Iraq War docu "Gunner Palace," released in 2005 by Palm Pictures. Its filmmakers successfully appealed the film's R rating to PG-13 despite including the word "fuck" 42 times. At the time, they were not allowed to cite any previous ratings board rulings and instead argued for the context in which the word was used, and for what purpose. Ruskin was able to cite the "Palace" ruling in his appeal because of recent revisions in the ratings procedures.

"Palace" featured young soldiers' firsthand perspectives on the war and is now available to be shown as part of high school lessons, one of the goals of the "Hip Hop Project" filmmakers. All net profit from "Hip Hop Project" will be donated to youth organizations.

The film, produced by Scott Rosenberg, will be released May 11 in 15 urban markets.