In 2003, 50 Cent seemed like the next hip-hop superstar. Friends with Eminem and Dr. Dre, enjoying the popularity of his huge hit single "In Da Club," the man born Curtis Jackson was a multi-platinum recording artist and a Grammy nominee. He had a swagger and a danger about him, no doubt helped by the fact that he had previously been a drug dealer, surviving being shot several times in the process. He had everything.
And then he decided to become an actor.
50 Cent is far from the first rapper (or even musician, for that matter) to be lured by Hollywood. But it's hard to think of a musician who has so doggedly pursued acting -- despite all the clear signals that, really, he should not be acting -- as Fiddy has. You could say his perseverance has been heroic. But that would be something you'd say if you haven't seen his movies.
His big debut was in a semi-autobiographical version of his own life. Named "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" -- the same name as his first album -- the 2005 drama was directed by Jim Sheridan, who had previously helmed "In America" and "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father." Sheridan was a respected director, and the fact that he was taking on this project suggested that it might have some potential. But the movie was atrocious: Despite being surrounded by good actors like Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, 50 Cent was a piece of wood, a lump of coal, a waste of space in the film. The swagger and machismo he displayed in interviews and in his videos was completely missing. Just a few years earlier, Eminem had impressed us by making the transition to the big screen with "8 Mile." By comparison, 50 Cent was a non-entity. What had Sheridan seen in this project? What had anyone who wasn't already on Fiddy's payroll?
Most pop stars after their big movie flop turn tail and stay away from Hollywood for quite some time: Britney Spears with "Crossroads;" Mariah Carey with "Glitter," although she redeemed herself with her small part years later in "Precious." 50 Cent did no such thing. He just kept on acting. He played a soldier in "Home of the Brave." He was a drug dealer in "Righteous Kill." He was a drug dealer again in "Twelve." And those are the movies that you've heard of. What about "Streets of Blood," the post-Katrina drama that also starred Val Kilmer and Sharon Stone? Or what about "13," the American remake of the French thriller "13 Tzameti" that never got a U.S. release? What can you say about his acting? In his films that I've seen, I'd prefer to say nothing; rarely have I seen an actor work so hard to seem tough. Wasn't that his entire persona? Beneath all that swagger, he seemed so utterly uncomfortable that it was literally painful to watch him on screen.
But yet he marches ever forward. Today, we saw the first "unofficial" trailer for his new sports drama, "Things Fall Apart." It's about a college football player (played by Fiddy) whose promising future is cut short when he's diagnosed with cancer. Inspired by a childhood friend's plight, "Things Fall Apart" is produced and co-written by the rapper as well, and it's clear he thinks this is his best Oscar movie. (He lost a ton of weight for the part, which is one of the surest ways to let people know you're a Serious Thespian.) But you watch the trailer and you think, "Wow, this man simply cannot act." (You may also think, "Wow, Mario Van Peebles is probably thrilled they don't mention anywhere in this trailer that he directed the movie.")
Right after the Oscars, there was a minor controversy about the fact that no African-Americans were presenters during the ceremony, provoking a lot of (admittedly, legitimate) hand-wringing about the lack of roles for up-and-coming black actors in Hollywood. In some ways, 50 Cent is symptomatic of this problem. Yes, he can't act, but because he projects a certain "street vibe" on his rap albums, he's become a go-to guy for casting directors looking for "criminal types" in their movies. These are the sorts of demeaning roles that an Anthony Mackie wisely avoids, but for 50 Cent they provide a chance to keep the dream alive that he might one day break into Hollywood. In reality, there are plenty of roles out there for young African-American actors -- it's just that too many of them aren't worth any real actor's time.