As a self-professed ‘Stan’ and all-round rap fan, I still remember when I first started getting into Eminem’s discography. I particularly recall connecting to his more heartfelt songs, which contained profound lyricism and evocative storytelling. So naturally when I discovered that he had starred in a full-length feature film, I knew I had to watch.
20 years after its release, Eminem’s performance in 8 Mile arguably remains one of the greatest acting debuts of any musical artist. Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr (Eminem) attempts to forge out a path for himself through rap, a predominately Black genre, whilst also trying to hold down a dead-end job and living with a dysfunctional family. Throughout the movie we witness setbacks that come his way through the form of financial troubles, disloyalty and self-doubt. The dark and gritty mise-en-scène reflected in the stylistic decision of the film’s colour palette of primarily grey, blue and black imagery, perfectly encapsulates the gloomy and rundown side of 8 Mile in Detroit, which is devoid of any opportunity for B-Rabbit to escape his problems and find success. It is a classic underdog story; some may say it is similar to Rocky if you were to replace the boxing with rap, particularly through their quintessential final ‘battle’ scenes.
It is at the end of the film where Jimmy famously returns to the stage and triumphantly battles a series of respected opponents with witty but fierce comebacks that has created the most recognisable and quotable parts of the movie by showcasing the intense cut-throat nature of Battle Rap, where anything and everything can be used against you. Semi-biographical in nature, the film draws frequent parallels to Eminem’s own struggles in the beginning of his career. The real experiences of Eminem’s strained relationship with his mother, the soul-crushing reality of working a monotonous minimum-wage job and frequent side-lining due to his race all culminate to form a beautifully nuanced performance from Eminem, who exudes intensity and vulnerability when it is called for.
The 8 Mile Soundtrack goes hand-in-hand with the success of this movie. It is known that Eminem wrote the songs for the soundtrack in between scenes on set. The lead single ‘Lose Yourself’ went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song and some of the writing process is even featured in the film, in a scene where Rabbit is quietly formulating the rhymes and cadence for the song. With a rousing guitar riff and spirited chorus, it has become one of the most significant and acclaimed songs in Eminem’s repertoire. Famously, he was not there to accept his award on the day he won but 17 years later he performed at the 2020 Oscars Ceremony much to everyone’s surprise and delight.
8 Mile tells a tale of a dreamer in a downtrodden city where dreams and aspirations of any kind have to be put on the back burner in order to just stay afloat. At times we see Rabbit’s faith in becoming a rapper falter given the setbacks he faces but ultimately, he prevails. However, it is a shame we did not see more of B-Rabbit’s story or a final resolution to the rags-to-riches story we all thought we were going to get. He does not suddenly win a record-deal and elevate from the mundane struggles of daily life to the confusing trappings of fame. Instead, by the end of the film he gains new-found respect rather than financial security and I suspect that is what he was chasing all along.
20 years later, 8 Mile is, in my eyes, a classic. Unembellished and raw, the film contains stellar performances from its cast, a killer soundtrack and an innately relatable story. It is definitely worth revisiting even if you are not a rap fan.
Watch the 8 Mile trailer here, via Universal: