Curtis Hanson’s urban drama 8 Mile, reveals the story of an ambitious white rap artist desperate to make a better life for himself.
The main character, Jimmy Smith Jr., more commonly known to his friends as Rabbit, features real-life entertainer, Eminem, a multi-platinum recording artist. The film is semi-autobiographical, based on events in Eminem’s life prior to his fame. 8 Mile follows Jimmy’s struggle to be recognized for his lyrical talent while dealing with a troubled home life and surviving in a lower socio-economic environment.
8 Mile is a film that demonstrates processes of race, class, and segregation.The story takes place in Detroit, Michigan, a city rapidly falling victim to economic devastation and de-industrialization. Detroit is often seen as a prime example of what de-industrialization can do to an area and its people. The global auto crisis was the primary cause of factory closings and mass layoffs, transforming Detroit into the poorest major city in the United Sates.
There is now a high level of poverty, and noticeable racial segregation. Detroit has numerous neighborhoods suffering from urban decay, consisting of vacant properties that are prairie lands.The effects of de-industrialization are illustrated in the film when Jimmy takes the bus to work at New Detroit Stamping. Rundown buildings, vandalized with graffiti, include the abandoned business of the Penthouse Golf Club, a symbol of better days.
8 Mile was successful in its accurate depiction of Detroit as an urban wasteland. Curtis Hanson portrays the city in a rundown, desolate, and dangerous manner that promotes a real sense of what Detroit is really like.At one point in the film, one of Jimmy’s friends, DJ Iz, comments on the number of vacant and abandoned buildings in Detroit. He questions “How are you supposed to take pride in your neighborhood with so many abandoned buildings around?”, and accuses the city of being too busy building casinos and taking money from the people.
DJ Iz then claims that the deserted buildings would not still be standing if they were on the other side of 8 Mile.Connecting to concepts in class, segregation is apparent in the film. The movie’s name refers to 8 Mile Road, a main street along the city’s periphery. In Detroit, most people know 8 Mile Road as a border and a boundary.
It is a cultural dividing line that segregates the largely white middle-class suburban neighborhoods from the predominately black lower-class inner-city. The perception of 8 Mile Road as a dividing line between ethnic groups and classes is widely accepted. Not only does 8 Mile Road create a physical boundary but also a psychological dividing line.Those living in the inner city have feelings of animosity and envy towards those living in suburbia.
In the film, conflict arises between two rap groups, the Free World and the Three One Third. One of the members of the Free World tells Jimmy that he belongs on the other side of 8 Mile as he is one of very few white rappers on the predominantly black side of 8 Mile.In Massey and Denton’s chapter “The Continuing Causes of Segregation” in American Apartheid, the authors argue that race and class both play roles in residential segregation. This idea is evident in the film as Jimmy is shown living in a lower socio economic class on the poorer side of 8 Mile Road.
He lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic mother who ends up getting evicted because she couldn’t come up with enough money to pay rent. The only affordable housing for those in a lower economic status are various trailer parks found along 8 Mile. Also according to Massey and Denton, racial segregation against blacks was still existing in the 1980’s and prejudice continued indirectly. 8 Mile takes place in 1995 where racial segregation is still present.
This is shown with the geographical separation of a mostly black population on one side and a mostly white population on the other side of 8 Mile Road.The geographical division of race and class that 8 Mile Road creates is similar to Burgess’s idealized model of concentric zones. In the model, the ghetto was located near the centre of the city along with other lower income immigrant neighborhoods, including Little Sicily and China Town. Immigrants took their place as the lowest of the low in the social hierarchy and lived in dense poor quality housing that was affordable for them.
The boundary created by 8 Mile Road also shows a high degree of involuntary clustering of ethnic minorities.It is evident that the processes of race, class and segregation influence the experiences of many characters in 8 Mile, especially Jimmy. Connections from class including “The Continuing Causes of Segregation”, and Burgess’s model of concentric zones, express these concepts. These processes are not only found in the film but also shape the lives and experiences of real people.