Fighting mad

November 09, 2005

THE PROMOTIONAL billboards for a new movie about the life of a popular rap star struck an angry chord with parents living in a tough South Central Los Angeles community. The bare, bronze back. The outstretched arms. The hands, one holding a microphone and the other a pistol.

The imagery was intolerable, and the anger spread to urban neighborhoods in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Philadelphia, and crescendoed around the country. By the time the noise died down, the little guys had won. Paramount Pictures agreed to take 21 billboards down, bowing to the sensibilities of parents offended by the blatant glorification of thug life and violence.

The adults who protested the billboards promoting the film about rapper 50 Cent, aka Curtis Jackson, were pleased with the results - and entirely surprised.

"They heard us. They heard our voice, and I'm glad," one Los Angeles mother told CNN, almost in disbelief. Fighting big Hollywood "seems so overwhelming," one man conceded. "It's almost like, `Can we really fight City Hall?'" Turns out these seize-the-moment activists didn't need City Hall. They were armed with some cold, hard facts: 800 homicides in South Central in the last five years.

In Baltimore, a different promotional billboard was used. It depicts the rapper cradling an infant. But the controversial billboard displayed elsewhere exploits an image that far too many young men embrace. Fifty Cent's rags-to-riches life story may be compelling on the big screen, but his past drug-dealing, gang activity and stint in prison are anything but admirable.

As 50 Cent happily noted, the controversy might prompt more people to see Get Rich or Die Tryin', which opens today. But the message the protesters sent to their children might be just as profitable as his box-office take.

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