A no holds barred deep dive into the life of a polarising and complex rock star. This is a fascinating documentary that explores everything from the music industry all the way to mental health.
This review of the Hulu documentary film Look at Me: XXXTentacion does not contain spoilers.
One of the most polarising debates in twenty-first-century pop culture is this notion of separating the artist from the art. Can you enjoy the music or work of an artist, who has committed a crime or is accused of an indecent act? Should you cancel that artist, deleting them completely from your life, or can you still appreciate their work without supporting their ways? I’ve battled this idea myself with a favorite band of mine and fans alike face these complex questions when the pop culture that they love is suddenly tarnished by the private actions of the person who made it. They say never meet your heroes and as the years roll on it’s become ever more evidently true.
XXXTentacion (Jahseh Onfroy) falls into this category, a musician with a criminal past and many demons in his closet, yet an artist who also made highly acclaimed music that helped a lot of people on a personal level. He spoke to the depressed and the lost in a way few artists have managed to do in these social media-heavy times. This fascinating debate about the artist versus the art is the basis of one of the year’s best documentaries, capturing the life of a misjudged rock star.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan, this feature-length documentary tells the rags to riches story of the iconic musician, mixing together interviews, social media content, archival news clips, and all-access documentary footage. What you are left with is a raw and unflinching look into the entire making of a polarising and highly controversial artist. Possibly one of the most human of explorations into an artist seen on camera in a long time, working nicely as a companion piece thematically with Netflix’s Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.
With all great biographies, you have to go back to the start, to those early formative years. Look at Me: XXXTentacion opens with your typical origin story of a wayward teen saved by music. Interestingly, Jahseh’s own mother, Cleopatra Bernard, actually executive produced this film as she wanted to tell her son’s story warts and all, no holds barred. And it is a brutally honest depiction of the troubled rapper. Portraying the songwriter as an outcast, an old soul, and a violent criminal, all wrapped up in one messy, but very human package. This is, after all, a man who committed many felonies, spent time in jail, and was facing a twenty-year sentence when his life was tragically cut short.
The film works through his rise to success and bouts in prison. Addressing Jahseh’s anger problems and unstable mental health in excruciating, yet purposeful detail. Friends and family attest to the singer hearing voices, self-harming, and engaging in a history of violence. Towards the end of the documentary, Jahseh begins to change his mentality and openly participates in therapy sessions, channeling a more positive outlook on life. This promotes the idea that there is always room for recovery, these troubled artists, like all individuals, are worthy of redemption and can change their ways for the better, if given the chance.
Look at Me: XXXTentacion ends with an emotional resolution, reflecting on Jahseh’s legacy. It’s great to see an honest and fair depiction of a megastar, which stretches from the unflattering all the way to the glorifying, then vice versa and everything in between. This is an authentic and deep foray into what makes an icon, what fuels our obsessions, and the continuing debate as to whether or not you can separate the artist from their art.
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