“Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.”
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I’ve compiled some of the frequently asked questions about Bling: A Planet Rock, a feature documentary film I slaved over—”slave” being the operative word here—from 2001, when I started drafting the idea, all the way through its completion in ’07. The experience has been one of life’s greatest life lessons for me: an emotional rollercoaster ride. At the end of the day, however, it was all well worth the journey that lead me to the destination. (And prepared me lovely for the next joint! stay tuned!)
Watch the fundraising trailer and read more FAQ‘s about the film on djalirancher.com; click on PROJECTS.
How did the idea to connect hip-hop to the conflict in Sierra Leone come about?
Raquel Cepeda: As the chief editor of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld magazine, my goal was to bring the internationalist flavor of the “one world” name to life by using my editorial real estate to promote the notion of global community. I believed it was important to inspire our demographic to travel, to become citizens of Earth rather than just America. I realized that using hip-hop parlance was the best way to engage such a broad body of readers. I also realized that that same power could be utilized in films to make some rather compelling statements.
I believe that travel is as important a tool for self-development and discovery-it’s a facet of education that many Americans take for granted. By seeing how people live around the world, we better understand how our lives here impact such distant communities. Seeing is believing, and believing transforms change into something more than an ideal.
I was especially fixed on how youth culture was using hip-hop dance, music, art, fashion and multi-media to define themselves while trying to make sense of the world around them. As a result, in Oneworld, I published features about hip-hop in New Zealand, South Africa, Native America (that is, on the res.), among other places.
And then there was Sierra Leone.
I had been following the conflict throughout the years and every so often, new dynamic parallels were becoming apparent to me. As my knowledge of what was going on over there continued to grow, I realized that Sierra Leone’s story was more than a feature in Oneworld; it was a story that needed to be illustrated on film.
Did Kanye West‘s single “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” inspire your film?
Raquel Cepeda: Bling: A Planet Rock was not inspired by Kanye’s amazing song. However, thankfully, the tune was released at a great time because it helped me gain the support that was needed to realize the project. Kanye is featured in the film and added a necessary perspective; who better to help articulate hip-hop’s obsession with all things that bling than Mr. West at the time? He was very special-still is-because of his mass appeal both in and out of the hip-hop community.
When did you start working on the film?
Raquel Cepeda: I started writing the treatment for Bling at the end of 2001 while working as editor in chief of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld magazine.
What is it about hip-hop as a culture that gives it the unique ability to educate people about important global issues?
Raquel Cepeda: Hip-hop, created by mostly poor young people in New York City, is, at its best, an act of open resistance. It was the rebel yell of disenfranchised youth who transformed what little was given to them into performance art. Hip-hop was essentially art therapy, and to see said American counterculture go on to inspire and heal (and, in some instances, hurt) generations of people-from Israelis to Palestinians to South Africans and Maoris and everyone else in between-is an amazing thing. I think that if people here in the States bore witness to this power, it will not only educate but also inspire global awareness and real change. This is also true for communities around the world: for instance, I’ve met young diehard hip-hop heads in Ghana who learned about the conflict in Sierra Leone through my film. It’s pretty incredible to think that a Dominican by way of New York flew ten hours to hip a person in Ghana about what happened only a few hours away in Sierra Leone. And what I learned in Ghana about youth culture and hip-hop due to my film has changed my life as well: it’s a two-way street. As a matter of fact, I recently showed my film at the Hebrew Tabernacle in my neighborhood and had a chance to dialogue with people whom I would have probably never met if it had not been for, even indirectly, hip-hop!
What is the most interesting discovery you happened upon while making the film?
Raquel Cepeda: As a filmmaker, I approached this project with a real desire to tell a story that I felt was really important. But filmmaking, unfortunately, isn’t just about shooting and editing: it’s really about dollars and sense and politics and production companies and networks. Regardless of the rigors I faced, as a filmmaker I learned a lot from the experience and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share this story with so many people.