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Studio Cuts Back 'Get Rich' Billboards

Signs near schools are removed after activists complain that they promote violence.

October 29, 2005|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Call it a Hollywood ending.

Paramount Pictures has begun removing billboards promoting 50 Cent's upcoming film "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " near schools after community activists complained that the signs promoted gun violence.

The billboards for the semiautobiographical film show the rap star -- whose real name is Curtis Jackson -- with his back to the viewer, holding a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other. The film, which opens Nov. 9, tells the story of a gangster drug dealer who abandons crime to become a musician.

But both message and the messenger were unwelcome when the billboards went up too close to area schools.

"That sign is glorifying a dope dealer and the gang culture," said Royce Esters, president of the National Assn. for Equal Justice in America, a civil rights group. "They're recruiting wannabe gangbangers."

Esters said he had called Paramount to complain about one of the billboards near a school in Compton.

But as of Friday afternoon, he said, the studio hadn't called him back.

Earlier this week, activists staged a rally to protest the signs in a South Los Angeles neighborhood. Organizer Najee Ali accused Paramount of irresponsibility for marketing in high-crime areas a movie that he said glorifies carrying guns.

And Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich grabbed a co-starring role in the protest when he sent a letter to Paramount President Brad Grey this week calling for immediate removal of the billboard in front of the NIA Charter School on Woodbury Road in west Altadena, an area beset with gang problems.

"This billboard conveys to the students a disturbing message actively promoting gun violence, criminal behavior and gang affiliation," Antonovich wrote. "Placement of the billboard in this location at this time is an insensitive and reckless affront to the parents, school administrators and students seeking to improve their community."

Paramount was mum on the subject Friday, but one studio official, who asked not to be named, said: "We reevaluated those signs. Some of them came down Wednesday, some on Thursday and some [Friday]."

Asked how many of the signs were coming down, he said, "We're not going into specifics."

Tony Bell, one of Antonovich's aides, said Paramount had responded to the supervisor and was removing the sign on Woodbury.

"The movie may be a good thing, about redemption," Bell said. "But this [billboard] isn't the way to do it."

The film -- rated R for violence, strong language, drug content, sexuality and nudity -- is billed as a fictionalized version of Jackson's life.

Born in Queens to a drug dealer eventually slain by neighborhood rivals, Jackson dealt drugs himself. Surviving an attack that left him with nine bullet wounds, he turned to rap, borrowing his nickname from a murdered gangster in Brooklyn. Jackson went on to become a major star.

The moral of Jackson's film is ambiguous, according to Martin Edlund, who reviewed it for the New York Sun.

"He's not so much apologizing for former misdeeds as celebrating them," Edlund wrote. "A Horatio Alger story it isn't."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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