As hip hop’s dance practitioners were entering public consciousness after appearances in Flashdance and Breakin’, in the summer of 1984 Beat Street became the first big-budget film to connect b-boying, djing, rap and graffiti together as hip hop culture. As a sort of fictional mainstream hip hop origin story, it is widely regarded as one of, if not the most, influential films in terms of bringing hip hop to the world stage. Produced by prominent African American actor and singer Harry Belafonte, it follows a young, innovative hip hop crew from the Bronx as they attempt to “make it big” downtown. The film explores race and class tensions to an extent, but has been critiqued for glossing over some of the deeper roots, such as gang ties and Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation. In addition, union laws prohibited graffiti artists from working on the film’s set, lending to a poignant visual disparity between the existing graffiti filmed on location and the murals created specifically for the film by professional artists. Beat Street features some of the best performers of the time, from DJ Kool Herc, Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Doug E Fresh and Sha Rock to the legendary breakers Rock Steady Crew and New York City Breakers.
The Panelists include Harry Belafonte, singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist; Kool Herc, hip hop pioneering DJ; Martha Diaz, community organizer, media producer, curator, and hip hop archivist; Vee Bravo, Education Director at Tribeca Film Institute; Lisa Cortes (moderator), Film & Music Producer.
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