Prater: ‘Made in America’ documentary more about Jay Z than music

This month marked the release of the director Ron Howard’s long-anticipated documentary “Made in America.” Within its hour and 33 minutes, the film attempts to chronicle the inaugural year of Jay Z’s Made in America festival that took place in Philadelphia over the 2012 Labor Day weekend.

There’s plenty of interviews and concert footage to be had, with the likes of Janelle Monae, Tyler the Creator and Run DMC stepping in front of the camera.

However, “Made in America” seemed to raise more questions than it settled. For instance, why release a documentary on the creation of the festival a few months after the show’s second show? Jay Z arranging for the event to be covered makes plenty of sense, but its release time seems oddly placed. It came out too late to act as promotion for the 2013 Made in America festival, but it’s out far too early to have any real nostalgic value.

At times, the flaws within the documentary seem to mirror legitimate issues concerning the festival itself.  Throughout the film’s entire length, Jay Z is followed as he helps to arrange everything. We see rehearsals, meetings of officials and other inner workings as the music mogul explains his vision for the show.

“So, I think Made in America could become a place where people of all cultures gather, just having fun and being themselves and everyone being themselves,” Jay Z said in the film. “And every other ethnicity or gender or sexual preference or whatever, everyone’s okay with it.”

The film does provide plenty of footage of singing and dancing audience members. Sharp eyes will even catch Mayor Michael Nutter jamming in the crowd near the end of the documentary.  But, the attendees are hardly the focus. After jumping from performer to performer in its coverage, “Made in America” always returns to its real subject: Jay Z.

The six-minute intro felt like a long commercial for the Jay Z show and, in many ways, so does the majority of the film. We even move from Philadelphia to Brooklyn to show how far Shawn Carter has really come, from his dangerous upbringing in the projects to helping to create the Barclays Center arena.

The main theme of the film, and perhaps the message of the entire music festival, seems to be the celebration of the American Dream, of people being able to make something of themselves despite adversity and challenges. We do see a food vendor struggling to make enough food to feed all the hungry festival attendees whose money she hopes to use to fund her dream of operating a food truck.

But, in the end, the only dream that matters is Jay Z’s.

That food truck couldn’t be funded without the existence of “Made in America.” Music fans couldn’t enjoy two days’ worth of music without Jay Z. Philadelphia couldn’t be the focus of a documentary without Jay Z’s interest leading the way.

Perhaps to Jay Z, throwing a huge two-day party in your name and charging hundreds of dollars for entry is the American Dream. With the festival already past its second year and most likely heading into a third, it seems the American people might agree.

Nia Prater can be reached at nia.prater@temple.edu.

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