Since hip-hop emerged from the South Bronx, the genre has served as the language to address racial and societal injustices. In It’s A Wonderful Plight, hip-hop narrates the protagonist Scott’s awakening from cultural appropriator to White ally.
Set in Dallas, the musical begins with Scott (played by Brian Shorkey) being called out for his love of hip-hop culture and prejudiced views against Black people, the inventors of said culture. Shortly after the conversation, Josef the Hotep (played by Justin Rhodes, the musical’s director and writer) guides Scott through Black American History.
Over the course of 75 minutes, Josef educates Scott about the struggles and victories of Black people in America. Original composed songs and audio clips of Martin Luther King Jr., Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G., and Fred Hampton build into the film’s standout moment: the reenactment of the killing of Botham Jean. The scene re-centers Dallas in ongoing conversations around police brutality and police violence.
The directors are Rhodes and Kory Williams, who also served as director of photography. They were both born and raised in Dallas-Fort Worth and understand the need to tell Black stories through an authentic, independent lens.
“I’ve seen a lot of musicals try to tell our stories from a Hollywood perspective. In an essence, they go from Hollywood and try to come to the hood,” Rhodes says. “We started [the musical] with, ‘this is where I’m from. This is where we’re coming. This is where the music sounds.'”
Rhodes is an accomplished hip-hop producer who has worked with LeCrae, Dr. Dre, and Rick Ross. He valued the incorporation of a genuine hip-hop voice. He sought to infuse the voices of Black ancestors with hip-hop to construct a unique musical, with a goal to make Hollywood gravitate toward them and the way they present their story.
The Black experience, much like hip-hop, has been regurgitated through a cinematic lens; Black consumers are dismayed by the commercialization of their lives. When asked about authenticity in the filmmaking process, Williams compared the musical to an artist’s debut album.
“I say that, because for some artists, their true authentic self is when they first came out,” he says. “I’m not saying in the future we’ll change. But, I’m saying when you shoot with all that you have, you have to make a way for yourself. That shows itself in the final product.”
Prior to the musical, the college buddies turned film entrepreneurs collaborated on These Beats Ain’t Free, a 2016 guerrilla-style web series based off one of Rhodes’ books. Three years later, the American Black Film Festival presented a screening of their Make It Take It as part of the festival’s programming. It was there, surrounded by members of Black Hollywood, that Williams came up with the idea of It’s A Wonderful Plight and presented it to Rhodes.
Now another three years later, the duo is in the midst of celebrating the musical’s debut on Amazon Prime. Originally slated to debut during Black History Month, Rhodes believes the new release date during the week of Juneteenth aligns with the film’s greater message. And they’re bringing their creation home for a big screen viewing.
Dallasites have the opportunity to attend a Juneteenth screening of the musical at the Angelika Film Center at 6 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are available here.