Two years ago I was interviewed for a documentary about the rise of reggaeton in Puerto Rico. Well, it has finally been released.
Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton’s Rough Road to Glory premiered on MUN2 last Thursday, July 31, 2008. It aired again Saturday, August 2. And, as of yesterday August 5th, the documentary is officially on sale.
The documentary may not be “the definitive story of reggaetón” (as the www.holamun2.com website claims), but it certainly seems to be the first large-scale, bona-fide documentary on the music genre. (And if you know of good documentaries on reggaeton that have not had mass media exposure, PLEASE let me know. I would love to spread the word.)
Sure, The Chosen Few: El Documental filled the void for quite a few years. But, lets be honest, as fascinating as much of the artists’ commentary was in that 2005 production, the effort was more of a hybrid documentary/infomercial than usual.
I really appreciate Straight Outta Puerto Rico’s emphasis on the social context out of which reggaeton came about in the 1990s in Puerto Rico. (Surprise, surprise—I’m a sociologist.) Of course, the interest this emphasis generates and the motives behind it are not just sociological/historical. This chosen focus also has a lot to do with the market appeal of a story featuring the drugs/money/violence bochinche factor.
The way that MUN2 promoted the documentary in www.holamun2.com was telling: “Drugs, Money, Reggaetón” was part of the title. And the preview clip that they chose to feature “explores why many early reggaetón artists' careers were funded by drug dealers.”
Now, on to other stuff I liked about the documentary. Due credit is given to Jamaican and Panamanian reggae. But then the story concentrates on Puerto Rico, no apologies made. Good. I’m usually hyper-sensitive to folks that claim that reggaeton is ONLY Puerto Rican. I’m just as hyper-sensitive to folks that claim that reggaeton IS NOT Puerto Rican. It’s a tired, heated, stale debate that I hope dies a quick and spectacular death. But this documentary does not go to either extreme. What a relief!
I may be no expert in camera work, but I found quite a few shots looking cheapy and/or sloppy. And the news footage featuring dead bodies and bloody survivors struck me as overdone.
I asked filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner (and my co-author for a NACLA journal article we titled “Reggaeton Nation”) for her impressions of the documentary in a nutshell. She writes: “Straight Outta Puerto Rico glosses over all of the hot button issues that come with reggaeton: poverty, racism, and misogyny. But like reggaeton itself, the film beats to the idea that there's more to music that meets the ear, and that finding out where music comes from is a vital way to make sense of ourselves and the world.”
Straight Outta Puerto Rico actually coincides with many of the points Frances and I made in the NACLA journal article. But it is so extremely powerful to see the stories and analysis right from the artists' mouths. And even better is to see the old music footage featuring Vico C, Ranking Stone, Chezina and many more artists. This documentary definitely includes some amazing historical gems!