Hip-Hop Gatsby: G is a hit-and-miss reimagining of a literary classic.

Conceived and produced by Andrew Lauren, who introduced the film in Memphis last weekend, G is a reworking of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's exploration of the class tensions between old and new money is re-imagined in this film as the struggle of hip-hop stars to adjust to wealth and status, still set against the backdrop of the Hamptons. It is an interesting transposition, since the question of class is now joined by and perhaps superceded by the issue of race. The film touches on these issues, but the core of the picture is the fraught relationships that must negotiate these boundaries.

In the film, the character of the mysterious playboy Gatsby is transformed into Summer G, a brooding hip-hop mogul played by Richard T. Jones, whose raucous parties in his new Hamptons home draw ire from his neighbors. Like Gatsby, Summer G appears to be an enormous success, but in private he is afflicted with an old loss. Unlike Gatsby, however, Summer G's wealth is not a mystery, and the tinge of gangsta menace doesn't equal the tensions created by Gatsby's illicit past.

The role of Fitzgerald's narrator is taken up nimbly by Tre (Andre Royo), a struggling writer for the hip-hop magazine True Flow, who has come to the Hamptons to wrangle an interview from Summer G. Tre stays with his cousin Sky (Chenoa Maxwell) and her rich husband Chip Hightower (Blair Underwood), who have a place in the Hamptons as well. Sky, the woman Summer G once loved, is playing the role of Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan, and Chip is Daisy's abusive and hypocritical husband Tom.

Chip takes on a more central and powerful role in G than his literary predecessor. He plays the gentrified black businessman perfectly, seething with hatred for Summer G and his hip-hop cronies. Chip's father is the owner of True Flow magazine, and Chip treats Tre with equal parts contempt, malice, and false "brotherhood."

Unfortunately, the film itself treats only upper-class blacks with respect. The duo of B-Mo-Smooth and Daizy Duke, who play two of Summer G's artists, are portrayed stereotypically and provide much of the film's comic relief. The two rappers sport absurd outfits, scour the Hamptons for Newport cigarettes and malt liquor, and generally embody all of Chip's negative assumptions about race.

The film, according to Lauren, is "an aspirational black romance." The relationship between Summer G and Sky is grounded in the language of Gatsby. "I built this world for you," Summer tells Sky, appealing to her to give their love another chance.

But as the film develops toward its conclusion, it rapidly transforms from a literary adaptation to a melodrama. Without giving away the ending, I will say that it significantly departs from the original. The main focus of the picture is the drama and tragedy of the relationships, not the intricacies of the environment.


Opening Friday, September 16th


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