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A night of hip-hop feminism


By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005
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What started off as a film exercise for a University of California, Los Angeles documentary class has propelled University of Minnesota graduate student Rachel Raimist into the national spotlight. The 58-minute documentary "Nobody Knows My Name," which focuses on the lives of women involved in hip-hop culture, has garnered national attention and will premiere at the UA on Monday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Harvill building, Room 150. In a phone interview, Raimist discussed her views on hip-hop, feminism and the challenges and tribulations of the vide-ho's life.

Wildcat: You profile six women in your documentary, ranging from an ex-gang member and an underground hip-hop artist to an internationally renowned break dancer. Why did you pick these particular women for your documentary "Nobody Knows My Name?"

Raimist: I chose Medusa, Asia One and the women in the film because they invited me into their homes and shared a depth and honesty in the interviews.

For an artist like Medusa, she was more about the ability to express herself and the energy that she shares with the crowd rather than talking about how many records she's sold.

Wildcat: Are you surprised at the documentary's success?

Raimist: Absolutely surprised. Just a few days ago I signed a contract with a Japanese distribution company. When I made this film, I didn't think people would see this film. At the premiere of the film at UCLA, we were sold out and the fire marshal was going to shut us down. I didn't make the film to make money or make a name for myself. I wanted to make my story come to life on screen.

Wildcat: What exactly is your story?

Raimist: A piece of my story is that for years I was with an executive with the music industry. Nobody knew my name, I was either "his girl" or "the girl with the camera." It was never, "That's Rachel." It was always like I was a possession or only known since I had a camera in my hand

Wildcat: How would you define hip-hop?

Raimist: I don't think that hip-hop is easily definable or nameable. Hip-hop is a wide-open space with a basic circle of elements from rap, b-boy, b-girl, aerosol graffiti art and beat boxing and to genres like theatre, filmmaking, spoken word, poetry. There are many manifestations stemming from this culture. It's a range of style and formats that's large, often contradictory. It's both sexist and empowering from being well funded to someone banging on a lunchroom table telling their story.

Wildcat: Why do you think hip-hop has developed in such a way that it marginalizes women?

Raimist: We exist in a larger sphere where we subjugate women in everyday lives, not just in the hip-hop culture. Watch one hour television and you can see sexism on almost every show we watch. Every show could be deemed just as sexist as a rap song in this time and place in this country. Hip-hop gets blamed because of the oversaturation of sexist rap. In every media outlet we're only hearing that type of hip-hop, yet it's only a little slice that is part of an entire cultural sphere that has so many other layers.

Wildcat: What would you say to the women who make their livings by music videos or modeling for hip-hop stuff that plays on overt sexuality?

Raimist: I was having this argument about the truth of women in hip-hop. There are those kinds of girls who can break and rap and that's our reality of women, but the video model and the vide-ho are also truth.

The problem is that young women only see images of being beautiful and thin and dancing in videos, and it becomes the dream, but there is no access to the alternative.

I have no problem with that, but I don't want to be a video model nor do I want my daughter to be that and be used as an image of visual pleasure. I want her to have awareness of self and range of possibilities beyond beauty. I was in a video in a miniskirt when I was 17 or 18, but I saw other spaces and potential than just being in a video.

We are so saturated of women in music videos and we don't have models of alternatives. One of the goals of third-wave feminism is about choice and agency. Who am I to say that she made the wrong choice?

Because I'm not going to take someone else's choice away, but I want to make sure choice is an informed choice. The choice that Maxim and Stuff have when they put video girls on their covers; those are the choices I worry about. They are ones that distribute these ideals of a globally exported culture where people all over the world think that this is what hip-hop is about.



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