SUNDANCE: Interview with "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" Director Byron Hurt

by | February 2, 2006 | Comments

When Byron Hurt quit his job and drove to New York, he had $3,000 to his name and virtually no contacts in the movie business.

"I remember driving in my U-Haul truck with all my stuff in the back on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and looking at the New York skyline, and I was saying to myself, ‘Man, you must be crazy.’"

"I was terrified when I quit my job, but that fear is what gave me the energy and the drive to be successful at it," he said. "My motto was, ‘Failure is not an option.’"

Six years later, Hurt was at Sundance as the director of the thought-provoking documentary "Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture."

"I’ve heard that it’s been getting a lot of good buzz, a lot of press," he said. "Aside from just being grateful for being here, for being selected into Sundance, it’s just a great honor to get to this point after so many years of working on the film and knowing in my heart that I had something really special that had a lot of possibilities."

The film combines revealing video clips and sharp interviews with well-known and aspiring rappers, intellectuals, and people on the street. The focus of "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" is how being "hard" is often a stand-in for homophobic or sexist posturing.

But Hurt also turns the camera on himself, and reveals both his love for the music and the ways in which his views have evolved.

"I wanted this film to be more about my conflict, because you know what? There are a lot of hip-hop fans who are conflicted about hip-hop," he said. "There are people who have problems with the hypermasculinity, have problems with the misogyny, have problems with the homophobia, the materialism, but they still love hip-hop."

"People who grew up going to house parties and college parties, we love hip-hop," he said. "But we don’t like where hip-hop is. We don’t like the direction it’s taking. And I’m just being honest about that."

Part of the issue, according to Hurt, is that record companies and music video outlets are making money off this narrow view of what hip-hop, and by extension, the African American experience, is.

"There are some people who don’t have a problem with it," he said. "The most important thing (to them) is that hip-hop is a commercially successful art form that’s putting a lot of money into people’s pockets, including big corporations."

But Hurt also noted that his love for the music allows him a better vantage point from which to comment; he’s not a politician or a pundit.

"I wanted to make it for people who knew and understood hip-hop," he said. "I knew at the end of the day I had to show it to those people, and I would never want to be flat out dismissed by the hip-hop community or my boys who listen to hip-hop."

"I’ve been walking this fine line, because I want to break new ground, but I don’t want to be seen as somebody who’s saying it from the outside," he said.

Hurt’s first film, "I Am a Man: Black Masculinity in America," was rejected by PBS nationally (though it did screen on some local affiliates and played at a number of colleges). Hurt said some of the criticisms of the film were valid, but he was badly shaken by the experience.

"They were right on a certain level, but it devastated me, and it really damaged my confidence for a long time," he said.

Hurt took a public relations job at his alma mater, Northeastern University, but he spent much of his time on the job thinking about making movies.

"Every meeting I walked into I was thinking about my next film," he said.

So he left, and moved in with his parents on Long Island, ready to jump back into moviemaking. But something about the word "filmmaker" flummoxed him, he said.

"I was scared to call myself a filmmaker, because there’s a certain commitment you’ve got to make when you call yourself that," he said. "It means you’ve got to make films. You’ve got to find money to make films. And I was always overwhelmed with the process of finding funding and stuff like that."

When he went to New York City, Hurt had contact information for director/producer Stanley Nelson; after calling him incessantly, he got a gig as a production assistant on Nelson’s film "Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind."

The job paid off; after Hurt raised some funds for "Beyond Beats and Rhymes," Nelson became his executive producer, and helped raise more money for the film.

Hurt was working hard, trying to get as many interviews as he could, and he ended up with an impressive list: Chuck D, M-1 of Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Russell Simmons (who answered Hurt’s questions, albeit reluctantly).

"I just beat the pavement," he said. "Before I started shooting anything, I went to any and every hip-hop event in the city where I knew there were going to be rappers, and I told them what I was doing."

Hurt said he hopes the film, which will air on PBS in the coming year, will be entertaining to a wide audience.

"We worked hard to make a film that was thoughtful and entertaining, and accessible," he said. "Even if you don’t know a whole lot about hip-hop, you’ll be drawn into the film."

And while he knows he can’t change the attitudes of music listeners and artists overnight, Hurt said he hopes the movie makes people stop and think about the direction of hip-hop.

"I know this is only a film. I think I have realistic expectations on how this film could make a difference in the music industry," he said. "[But] I want people, when they watch the film, to listen to hip-hop from a different lens, to see it differently than they saw it previous to watching my film."

Check out Sundance features by Rotten Tomatoes:
Sundance Full Coverage
Sundance Blog
Sundance Discussion

Tag Cloud

Hallmark Christmas movies diversity harry potter Film GLAAD Television Academy sports BET Awards joker streaming spider-man king arthur Super Bowl target Netflix Christmas movies Crackle spain Schedule Paramount Network GIFs satire MCU TCA 2017 superman FX Wes Anderson hispanic based on movie cancelled TV shows Awards Tour comics Cannes HBO archives Universal Tokyo Olympics foreign Heroines Pop TV aapi Nickelodeon worst movies WGN Infographic Academy Awards spy thriller scorecard TV latino crime drama Film Festival Ellie Kemper singing competition asian-american The Walt Disney Company Starz hidden camera science fiction Teen Video Games Turner BBC America Funimation Britbox animated cats Summer Showtime Chilling Adventures of Sabrina monster movies Reality all-time Comics on TV Martial Arts zombie docuseries Premiere Dates suspense ESPN live action Peacock olympics Rocketman renewed TV shows Quiz canceled TV shows Freeform X-Men YouTube The Walking Dead concert unscripted DC Universe Women's History Month Valentine's Day Podcast book adaptation FOX crossover Food Network Rocky spinoff 4/20 cartoon slashers emmy awards war Sundance TV justice league deadpool YouTube Premium VICE TLC TNT Logo Set visit werewolf golden globe awards politics Drama The Witch marvel cinematic universe rotten movies we love FX on Hulu south america Arrowverse Kids & Family Holiday prank boxoffice comic Music Superheroe franchise 2018 Trivia SDCC Fall TV golden globes Sony Pictures sequel natural history saw Mary Tyler Moore game of thrones cars medical drama supernatural video obituary Spike IFC PBS Amazon italian psychological thriller Baby Yoda stoner Grammys cooking OWN theme song rotten Extras PaleyFest Sneak Peek A24 YouTube Red President Watching Series richard e. Grant Christmas YA ID streaming movies Holidays game show comedies talk show teaser Superheroes critics 007 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Family Emmy Nominations USA Sundance Now cinemax BBC toronto elevated horror Netflix halloween football Syfy The Academy rom-coms cancelled TV series discovery PlayStation Interview 1990s Oscars finale vampires ratings Vudu robots revenge 2016 Pixar The Purge 24 frames Nominations Amazon Prime El Rey WarnerMedia true crime classics reviews indie Mudbound Tumblr Hallmark biography Best and Worst NYCC cults Mary Poppins Returns Toys documentaries black kaiju Sci-Fi series Awards mutant Biopics Pet Sematary Musicals VOD period drama Musical blockbuster halloween tv Walt Disney Pictures parents dc razzies Apple CBS All Access TruTV news what to watch SundanceTV new star wars movies Sundance witnail james bond Adult Swim screenings Shondaland video on demand BET Fantasy psycho NBA TCA Winter 2020 telelvision CW Seed Bravo Comedy Central Spring TV Spectrum Originals Classic Film independent RT21 remakes a nightmare on elm street laika Writers Guild of America stop motion TCM anthology History ABC Signature San Diego Comic-Con SXSW 20th Century Fox popular Dark Horse Comics television comiccon First Reviews Tubi historical drama dogs 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards E3 venice Creative Arts Emmys fast and furious 72 Emmy Awards kong Song of Ice and Fire new york Trophy Talk RT History zombies screen actors guild Lifetime Star Trek political drama Marvel Masterpiece films reboot Western international aliens 45 sequels french trailers hist romance anime VH1 Television Critics Association Hulu 93rd Oscars japan Reality Competition Disney+ Disney Plus new zealand social media jamie lee curtis Horror Cosplay strong female leads TCA Marvel Studios blaxploitation FXX Disney streaming service Disney Marathons criterion cops binge legend Calendar E! Ovation Apple TV Plus Polls and Games Exclusive Video Black History Month docudrama CBS directors quibi Comedy Amazon Prime Video Year in Review Mary poppins Thanksgiving Elton John police drama pirates of the caribbean jurassic park children's TV Hear Us Out heist movie dragons BAFTA women American Society of Cinematographers Paramount Marvel Television child's play The Arrangement dceu ABC DC streaming service 2021 scary movies See It Skip It Tarantino Animation AMC 2015 crime thriller high school Comic-Con@Home 2021 MSNBC scene in color movie 2017 name the review sag awards 90s award winner TV movies Broadway technology basketball Esquire nbcuniversal Election Countdown ghosts die hard Avengers TIFF Image Comics spanish language HBO Go Lifetime Christmas movies crime CNN GoT TCA Awards 21st Century Fox fresh Mystery rt archives APB transformers green book festivals tv talk Nat Geo travel best Black Mirror Emmys Anna Paquin Action Travel Channel Tomatazos serial killer Amazon Studios LGBTQ DGA canceled Certified Fresh Winter TV japanese sitcom First Look Columbia Pictures 99% Lionsgate DC Comics Pirates stand-up comedy breaking bad LGBT Disney Channel documentary worst Rock Trailer 71st Emmy Awards Paramount Plus Rom-Com A&E Disney Plus Warner Bros. christmas movies mockumentary lord of the rings hollywood comic books Alien Brie Larson Acorn TV Crunchyroll Country Apple TV+ Endgame adenture spanish Pride Month zero dark thirty Star Wars Discovery Channel DirecTV IFC Films book nfl Turner Classic Movies Winners TV renewals kids Shudder Legendary Photos king kong miniseries Mindy Kaling batman superhero twilight nature NBC movies Character Guide Ghostbusters chucky versus MTV space BBC One Stephen King dark casting Fox News Red Carpet Captain marvel doctor who adaptation universal monsters Lucasfilm 2019 ABC Family Comic Book wonder woman mission: impossible adventure National Geographic Epix cancelled television thriller ITV Box Office romantic comedy The CW OneApp festival blockbusters Pacific Islander facebook 2020 godzilla indiana jones Fox Searchlight Opinion toy story know your critic USA Network TBS composers HBO Max New York Comic Con Binge Guide CMT Chernobyl Cartoon Network TV One TV Land Pop australia cancelled disaster dramedy ViacomCBS boxing free movies