Rapper Goes Undercover to Shed Light on Plight of the Homeless
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Rated R for drug use and profanity.
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio: Screen Media Films
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Excellent (4 stars)
Prakazrel Michel, better known just as Pras, was one of the founding members of the hip-hop group ’The Fugees.’ But despite the fame and fortune he has enjoyed since meeting with success as a rap star, he’s never forgotten his humble roots, having been born in Haiti, and raised in Brooklyn, NY and South Orange, NJ.
This helps explains why in 2006 he decided to go undercover for 9 days straight, living amongst the homeless on Skid Row, a 50-block area of Los Angeles teeming with over 100,000 transients. With the help of hidden cameras, Pras filmed the entire ordeal, editing the essence of his experience into Skid Row, an eye-opening documentary which paints a good picture of what life is like for today’s hobos.
Not for the faint of heart, the warts-and-all production features graphic displays of the denizens of this godforsaken environ, whether they’re caught in the midst of private bodily functions, panhandling, avoiding rats, or using drugs and alcohol. There’s even a scene of an addict shooting heroin into his own clenched arm.
And while I suspect that the current explosion of real estate foreclosures might be changing the demographics of your typical street person, this film suggests that most of are either substance abusers or mentally ill. However, recent news reports of tent cities sprouting up in L.A. might mean that a lot of Average Joes have joined the ranks of the homeless.
When not worrying about his own safety, Pras spends his time bonding not only with some of the unfortunates he encounters, but with the cops and counselors assigned to the beat, and with a frantic woman looking for her self-destructive son. The undercover brother conducts revealing interviews at every opportunity, capturing a variety of perspectives that add up to paint a very sympathetic tableau of a sector of the population which generally goes unmentioned in polite society, the proximity of neighboring Beverly Hills notwithstanding.
The case of Mike Rodriguez proves to be the most heartbreaking. He’s an addict whose luck seems to change when he wins $100,000 with a scratch-off lottery ticket. But the closing credit postscript regretfully informs us that he rented an apartment and entered rehab only to relapse and die of a drug overdose.
A sage reminder to count your blessings for, as Phil Ochs wisely warned, ’There but for fortune may go you or I.’