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Review – Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

“A loser takes the path of least resistance to make himself feel like a winner.” Iceberg Slim

New documentary on the life of one of the most prolific figures in American literary history.

New documentary on the life of one of the most prolific figures in American literary history.

 Iceberg Slim: Portrait of Pimp is a 90-minute riveting documentary that brings into focus the life of a man whose words influenced generations. It could have been named The Nine Lives of Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck. Beginning with the tale of his birth and his savage treatment by a sinister father and continuing through his brushes with death, illness and the law, the film shows how a brilliant young man set out to create himself … over and over again.

Young Robert’s need for security, power and safety fueled his search for a god that he could actually see. A figure that would be dominant, intimidating and above all else – the ultimate definition of cool.  With limited positive icons around, he latched on to a character who was seemingly everything he wanted to be. The pimp. This near-mythical figure embodied all of  those traits plus women and money. The movie shows clips of past interviews and recordings which reveal the cold-hearted deals Iceberg made with both god and the devil to lay claim to the spoils of the pimp game.

Through reading his novels and essays and interviewing Iceberg’s family,  director Jorge Hinojosa dissects the pimp persona into stages of development and deconstruction. Scholars and entertainers weigh in also explaining both the breadth and depth of this man’s legacy – for better or worse. Some viewers had a cathartic experience in the theater; one young lady shed tears as she finally realized all that her mother had gone through as a sex worker and the strength it must have taken her to get out of the game. Once again, Iceberg Slim’s words were giving voice and even humanity to those who are usually invisible.

Jorge Hinojosa and (Mia's fave) Ice-T  started Final Level Entertainment. Expect more great, gritty entertainment from this duo.

Jorge Hinojosa and (Mia’s fave) Ice-T started Final Level Entertainment. Expect more great, gritty entertainment from this duo.

The movie caused controversy even before its April 8th screening at the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF.) Local activists who deal with horrific issues related to sex trafficking were concerned that the movie was deifying the pimp image, prompting one woman to write in protest of its scheduling. Hinojosa graciously called the woman and asked that she see the film before passing judgement, which she did. At the end of the showing, the woman told Hinojosa that he did a great job and meeting his goal of telling the real story from all its sides.  The film gave an objective look at the life of the man without glorifying the hustler persona which was hard as hell to do.

With the same humility, the talented director asks viewers to use his film to look past Iceberg’s first few lives in which the young pimp commits heartless crimes and spends years determined to be the baddest m-f-er on the streets. Hinojosa takes us through Iceberg’s early pimp life using the man’s own words, without pointing fingers other than to say violence against women is wrong, which is the very point that Iceberg makes himself eventually.

The film is filled with firsthand reports from both the writer and his wife who we should call the co-author. Viewers are taken to an open door to the writer’s mind. Photos of the solitary cell that probably gave birth to many of his stories and video clips of his first interviews that he did undercover for fear of his life are set against the numbers of books he sold which made him infamous. Those give us the backdrop that may do some explaining as to why such a gentle sounding man could at one point have so much contempt and pent up hatred.

Lastly there was Betty – part-wife, part-muse – who was his loud, brash counter-ego. She was his back and his backup whenever necessary. Theirs was the classic ghetto love story complete with affairs, addictions and all-in commitment no matter who or what entered the picture for as long as they could stand it. The in your face interview she gives from her sick bed was as true and transparent as they come. Between puffs of cigarettes and oxygen, she recounts their life together and tells us about the man who went to do ugly, menial work to feed his four children while the world painted him a legend.

Iceberg Slim at once becomes human and mythic at the end of this story. Fans will never know how much of his stories were real and how much was the dark imagination of a hood genius. But they will know more about the man.

[Forgive the iPhone borders; will correct and add again.]

One comment on “Review – Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

  1. Rob M.

    Excellent review! I’ve gotta see this movie. The thought that comes to mind is a pivotal scene in the movie “Superfly” when Eddie (Carl Lee) says to Priest (Ron O’Neil) “What the —— you gonna do except hustle? Besides pimpin and you really ain’t got the STOMACH for that.” Indeed it’s an ugly business yet it does serve a need and the folks involved are still human.

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This entry was posted on 04/11/2013 by in Cup of Coffee and tagged , , .
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