When AFI Fest wrapped on November 16 in Los Angeles, the film Bodied added a third audience award to its resume after victories in Toronto and Fantastic Fest too. Director Joseph Kahn spoke in a Q&A after the film’s AFI Fest screening and revealed the film’s unlikely inspiration.
Kahn is a prolific music video director and has worked with artist Taylor Swift on many. It was the backlash against her “Wildest Dreams” video that gave him the hook for Bodied.
“It took place in Africa,” Kahn explained. “When I came back [from filming it], I got a ton of sh** for it because basically, it was set in Africa in the 1950s and I didn’t put enough black people in there, and I couldn’t defend myself in any way whatsoever.”
Bodied is about a white college student (Calum Worthy) who becomes a champion in the multi-cultural world of battle rap. The film makes sure to call out his appropriation of African-American, Asian and any other culture in the name of mad rhymez.
“No matter what you would say on one side of the equation or the other, social media has a way of essentially bullying anyone that doesn’t say anything exactly the way it’s supposed to be said,” Kahn continued. “Even if you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s got this collective hive mentality which I thought was interesting.”
Kahn has also made many rap videos, and Eminem is a producer on Bodied. However, it was the Taylor Swift backlash that told him Bodied had more to say than “underdog achieves battle rap victory.”
“The only place I saw left that doesn’t have this hive mentality is battle rap,” Kahn said. “That’s the only place where I see a white guy and a black guy get up on stage, say the most racist sh** towards each other and then get a beer. It’s crazy, right? So I thought I finally have something to talk about.”
Bodied has been on Kahn’s mind for 16 years.
“I wanted to do a battle rap movie for a long time but I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “I didn’t want to just make a sports movie because Eminem had already done the ultimate sports battle rap movie. I just felt like that’s not the best version of this movie because he already did 8 Mile.”
Kahn teased on social media that he would be announcing a distribution deal for Bodied to release in 2018.