Constructing Meaning in “Hangtime”

There are several ways in which I knew, before seeing the second half of the movie, that Kiwame would accept Olu’s offer to join him in “gangster” work. Before Kiwame agreed to go to the night club with Olu, he expressed to his grandmother that she could wait around for his father all her life, but he only had ten days. This signified that Kiwame no longer placed trust in his father as a provider. Since Kiwame’s dismissal of his father did not eliminate his need (need can be defined very narrowly in terms of the tennis shoes, and broadly as a need for a role model in identity formation) to be provided for. Olu was the next man in line to fill the role of provider and to perform as a role model as Kiwame struggled to forge an identity for himself while pursuing success.

Once Kiwame was at the night club with Olu, it was very apparent that Kiwame would begin work with Olu. The Robert Johnson story creates a foreshadowing parallel between the fate of Robert Johnson and that of Kiwame. Like Johnson, Kiwame can have success. But this success comes at a price, Kiwame’s soul, his identity. In order to be successful, Kiwame must become one who deals with the devil– he must give up a promise that had formerly shaped his life: the promise to “stay clean”. Dismayed by his natural father and the finite limits of his impoverished status in society, Kiwame wants to do good but feels he does not have the resources to do so. He says that “the preacher is never around when you need him” and accepts a shot of liquor from Olu. This symbolizes that he will accept the poison that is necessary to reach his goal. He will deal with evil in order to attain what he deems to be the only worthy good for his life. 

The west is portrayed in two ways in this film. It is portrayed as the ultimate fulfillment of Kiwame’s life goal. Kiwame looks to NBA players as role models. On the other hand, the west is portrayed as a murderer of the native “African” culture. For instance, when Kiwame’s father is killed, the murders are wearing the masks of American presidents. Also, the west is portrayed negatively through the story of Robert Johnson, the fact that Olu drives a jeep and Kiwame needs tennis shoes, a western shoe, that comes only at the price of his father’s blood.

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