J. Rhodes wants white and non-Black people to listen. In It’s a Wonderful Plight, the new film from the Oak Cliff native, the story of Black America demands to be heard.
Writing a hip-hop musical, Rhodes says, is one of the many creative ways he’s found to grab others’ attention. The musical is an educational film for grown-ups.
It’s a Wonderful Plight, which was co-directed by Rhodes and Kory Williams, centers on Scott, a well-intentioned white man who appreciates Black art and culture but fails to realize his own privilege. Scott is shown moments in history that have affected the Black experience in America by a mysterious figure, Josef the Hotep, played by Rhodes himself, in a series of musical events.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek commentary for Rhodes because, he says, he knows people are aware of the struggles of Black Americans, ignore them and then appreciate — and at times exploit — their art.
“They can love our culture but can’t love our stories or our pain,” Rhodes says. “Since you don’t wanna listen from our mouth, lemme put a little beat to it.”
This adaptability in storytelling is Rhodes' attempt to reach a wider audience. He chose to make his film music-focused because there’s a mainstream, broad appeal to hip-hop.
As an artist based in Dallas, Rhodes knows the struggles of Black culture being ignored even as originators or creators of mainstream culture. Elvis infamously stole from Black artists. Deep Ellum was a predominantly Black district and now, well, isn’t.
“We need to learn how to come together as a people and learn how to use the system for our benefit,” Rhodes says.
Creating the musical, for Rhodes, meant an opportunity to show candid moments of recent and local history.
Among them was the case of Botham Jean, who was sitting in his own home when he was killed on Sept. 6, 2018, by Amber Guyger, an off-duty Dallas police officer. Though Guyger claimed the shooting was an accident and she thought she was in her own home, she was found guilty in his death and sentenced to prison.
For Rhodes, Jean’s story was a polarizing one. In too many instances like in Jean’s case, people wait for the other shoe to drop, Rhodes says.
“OK, someone got shot but they shouldn’t have been running,” Rhodes says of past cases. “But [in the case of Botham Jean], if you can't be safe on your couch, watching TV, then where are you safe?”
With the power of filmmaking, Rhodes hopes It’s a Wonderful Plight will help audiences relate to the experience of Black Americans. He's also hoping that the cycle of injustice doesn’t continue into the next year.
“I don’t want my kids to go through the same things I did,” Rhodes says. “So I’m doing anything so that my kids can have a better world.”
It’s a Wonderful Plight is a film about understanding and about reaching out. Rhodes is doing just that. He held a screening last Friday at the historic Forest Theater in Dallas with more showings coming, dates to be determined.
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Rhodes wants to do his part in ensuring that his and his community’s creativity no longer goes unnoticed.
“All we got is our heritage,” he says.
Watch the trailer for It’s a Wonderful Plight below: