'Bodied' battles to be more than just a rap movie

Actor Calum Worthy of the film 'Bodied.' (AP Photo)
Actor Calum Worthy of the film "Bodied." (AP Photo)

On the surface, the new film "Bodied" may not seem like the right fit for an actor known for the Disney Channel's "Austin and Ally." But for Calum Worthy, it couldn't be more perfect.

"That's one of the things coming out of a Disney Channel-type show or I think any TV show, you get kind of typecast as the character that you're playing on the show," said Worthy. "I really wanted to make really strategic decisions because I want to act until I'm 80, and I know that the only way to have longevity is to work with great storytellers."

The Joseph Kahn-directed "Bodied " is about a University of California graduate student, played by Worthy, who becomes entrenched in battle rap after using the genre as his thesis. "His participation ends up causing a lot of controversy at Berkeley which is a school he goes to but he continues to do it anyway," said Worthy.

Battle rap is a mostly underground sub-genre of hip-hop, consisting of rappers going head to head and reciting lyrics--both written and freestyled--directed at their opponent, similar to a lyrical boxing match.

One of the most famous battle rap movies is Eminem's "8 Mile," and Slim Shady also serves as producer on this film. Khan has directed many of Eminem's music videos throughout the years.

"I've not met him, but you see his influence throughout this movie," Worthy said. "The fact that he likes this movie and he believes it's a movie that people need to see means a lot."

The world of battle rap is a far cry from the world of political correctness, with profanity and obscene insults often thrown at the opponent, in the name of sport and with the hope of winning.

"There's no censorship when two battlers go up against each other and everything's on the table and anything that you can think of they're willing to say to each other," said Worthy. He said his character is interested in the art form because "it also sparks a lot of conversation around freedom of speech and cultural appropriation which are the two big themes in this movie."

Worthy had to stretch himself to play the role, including using the 'n-word,' which he said he's never used before: "Saying that word was the hardest part. And it was actually quite emotional because my whole life, I've been raised--and I know not to say it--and I never had said it until we actually filmed," he said. "I was very conscious of what that word means and that people like me have used it for hate for so many years."

And while many fans and participants love the underground feel of battle rap, the 27-year-old hopes that some of the principles of the art form can become mainstream.

"The interesting thing with battle rap is you have to listen in order to win. Right now, there's a lot of conversations happening in this very divided political climate. A lot of times we're in these echo chambers. We're not necessarily listening to one another," he said.

"Bodied" is in currently in select theaters and available on YouTube Premium.

 

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