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No Rap on Eminem: He Gets His Shot, His Opportunity, and Doesn't Let It Slip

'8 Mile,' starring the top-selling artist, draws people of all ages and has the second-best opening weekend ever for an R-rated film.

November 11, 2002|Lynn Smith, Geoff Boucher and Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writers

After lunch at Neiman-Marcus, Jane Ann Kuster, 73, moved into the dark confines of the Edwards Big Newport theater Saturday, accompanied by her friend and neighbor Armida Persello, 72. Kuster wanted to introduce her friend to Eminem, starring in his first movie, "8 Mile," and to witness his attempt to travel the distance from much-denounced rapper to mainstream movie star. Evidently, the journey was a success -- and financed not just by the fans you might expect. Powered by strong reviews in major newspapers, a hit song on the radio and a relentless ad campaign, the movie grossed an estimated $54.5 million over the weekend, far higher than expected. Universal Pictures reported that most of the "8 Mile" weekend moviegoers were under 25 and white -- and, intriguingly for a rap movie, female -- but almost a third were over 25, like Kuster and Persello in Newport Beach.

Until Sunday, filmmakers had been unsure whether middle Americans would be willing to spend two hours in the dark with Eminem, whose stated goal has been to "[expletive] the world off." But as the septuagenarians demonstrated, many welcomed him with open arms, some applauding perceived messages of authenticity, hard work and personal responsibility in the film. "He's a doll," Kuster said. "What you see is what you get. I don't think he puts on any pretense."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 12, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 163 words Type of Material: Correction
"8 Mile" -- In some Monday editions, The Times incorrectly reported that the movie "8 Mile," starring rapper Eminem, cost $50 million to make. The correct figure, according to Universal Pictures, is $41 million.

It made for some interesting weekend movie lines, and nowhere was the people-watching more fascinating than in the children and parents at theaters together. Many baby-boomer parents were already fans themselves. Deedee Williams, 50, founder of a Beverly Hills global consulting biotech company, said she had to talk her 14-year-old son, Matt, into coming along.

Despite its rating, bestowed for "strong language, sexuality, some violence and drug use," others found positive messages for kids in the movie. "From the ghetto, he ended up making something of himself. I think that's a positive thing in our society today," said Santa Ana psychologist Robin Carr, who brought two children and a friend, ages 12 to 15. Although he "cussed too much," he was also "trying to make ends meet," she said.

Eminem is the first white artist to become an airplay staple on rap radio stations in major markets. In a recording career of just three albums in four years, he has established himself as the best-selling solo rap artist ever in a genre that has been almost exclusively defined by black artists. The movie has a potent hit song in it, "Lose Yourself," which has been one of his biggest radio hits. The "8 Mile" soundtrack also debuted last month at No. 1 on the U.S. album charts. A second soundtrack, this one featuring the music from the rap "battle" scenes in the film, is in the works.

Despite critics who champion him as a relevant and clever cultural provocateur, Eminem has been assailed by others as a loutish, foul-mouthed rapper. For much of America until now, Eminem is best known for the protests against him before the Grammys in 2001, or perhaps the courtroom photos from his brushes with the law. His lyrics about women and gays have drawn protests and his albums are brimming with graphic language and violent imagery. Unlike Eminem's CDs, there is no "clean" version of "8 Mile" available for the younger teens who follow his music.

The film, directed by the critically respected Curtis Hanson, tells a classic Hollywood tale of "underdog makes good" by describing the struggle of a white boy trying to make it in the black, urban rap scene of impoverished Detroit. Unlike his mother's boyfriend, he has a job -- making steel bumpers at a stamping plant. Another message in the film is that connection in art and class can overcome race differences.

The R rating didn't hinder the movie's popularity, said its producer, Brian Grazer.

"The message of the movie is so positive that I think parents are just looking the other way," Grazer said. "Parents felt they could kind of get away from those [other hip-hop films]. But with Eminem, it's in their face and it forces them to understand the language."

Indeed, theaters nationwide were packed. It was the second-biggest opening weekend for an R-rated movie, behind "Hannibal," which made $58 million its opening weekend in 2001. "8 Mile" averaged more than $22,000 per screen; $10,000 is considered good in the industry.

At Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade on Friday night, unlikely moviegoers included people such as Cynthia Webber, who accompanied her 33-year-old son, Hugh, to the movie. "I think it's a great story -- how he came up out of a really tough life," she said. "And also his music is really good. People don't expect someone my age to like his music, but I do."

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