New SOU prof produced famous documentary on hip-hop culture

Among the many changes Southern Oregon University has made for the 2011-2012 term, the choices regarding faculty are some of the most notable.

Not many college professors can claim to having produced a well-known documentary, but Professor Robert Clift of SOU’s communication department can say more than that.

Before teaching at SOU last fall term, Clift produced two well-known documentaries broadcast nationally on PBS while teaching as a graduate student at Indiana University and pursuing his doctorate.

His second film, “Blacking Up: Hip-Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity,” was awarded the American Library Association’s “Notable Videos for Adults” award in 2011, and played recently at the Portland African American Film Festival.

The film explores racial identity conflicts associated with the growing number of white rappers and performers in hip-hop through interviews with well-known artists such as Vanilla Ice and Russell Simmons.

According to Clift, the inspiration for the documentary came from a fraternity hip-hop battle at Indiana University. Noting the audience was mostly made up of whites, Clift was drawn to the stage where a black rapper and a white rapper busted their rhymes in an almost “inverse final scene of 8 Mile,” said Clift, referring to the hip-hop drama starring the famous rapper Eminem.

Clift grabbed his equipment, and the footage he got on the event was used to advertise and raise money for the film.

According to Clift, the film received mostly positive reactions, because it opened up a platform for people to comfortably discuss the challenging issues brought up by the documentary.

Traveling all the way from Washington D.C., Clift decided to share his talents and passion for filmmaking with the eager students of SOU, helping the university to develop a strong media curriculum.

In addition to addressing different forms of media representation in both fiction and non-fiction genres, Clift will help steer the newly created “Film, Television and Convergent Media” concentration in the communication department and contribute to the interdisciplinary “Emergent Media and Digital Arts” minor.

Clift said he has been inspired by the positive responses of the students he has worked with thus far.

“There is a degree of excitement here that I haven’t seen in other places,” he said. “The students I love so far. They don’t have the same intellectual pretenses I’ve seen elsewhere, they’re just open-minded and eager.”

Clift encouraged students to immerse themselves in their passion, no matter what the obstacles may be. He related this to his own complications in getting interviews for “Blacking Up” from rappers such as Eminem, who chose not to be interviewed for the documentary.

Clift said the secret to making successes happen, such as speaking with Vanilla Ice or Chuck D., is to simply try to get it done.

“[The question of] ‘how’ is something that stops people instead of encouraging them to get their feet wet,” he said. “You are never going to be completely prepared for anything.”

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