Is it Sweet? 2015
Distributed by Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, Suite 550, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Produced by Rab Bakari, Dzino, and Saskia Koebschall
Directed by Directed by Jesse Weaver Shipley
DVD, color, 88 min.
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers
Date Entered: 06/06/2016
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland
Is It Sweet? is meant to be an experimental documentary on Reggie Ossei Rockstone, a Ghanian hip-hop superstar, living and performing, as the film’s promotional material states, “on the fringes of a cosmopolitan American city.” The viewer has to be willing to take part in the experiment to get anything out of this work. The movie never states a position or why this topic matters. For the uninitiated looking to learn about Rockstone, the filmmakers never deliver anything satisfying regarding the performer or his music. For existing fans of Rockstone’s music, Is it Sweet? will provide a bounty of behind-the-scenes and regular life footage, away from the façade of performance.
At no point is it exactly clear why this documentary was created. After watching 30% of the movie, viewers will learn more about what Rockstone wears than what it is that he does that warrants a documentary. Before viewers even have a chance to witness Rockstone perform, he is seen shopping for suits, being interviewed for radio, posing for a photo shoot, and taking part in informal discussions covering the types of challenges faced by those in his community and life. Only briefly after nineteen minutes of this footage is Rockstone shown in a performance setting. When it finally arrives, the audio fidelity is so lacking viewers can barely make sense of what his music actually sounds like. From an audio standpoint, this documentary is a mess: poorly captured audio throughout, frequently riddled with distracting background noises, and no subtitles. It does not help that all of the footage is informally shot on commercial-grade gear and then clumsily edited. Concurrently, there is no narration to guide the viewer through what is shown. Lastly, while the small sample of performance footage is not musically informative, it is visually very effective for other performative aspects: particularly the roles of movement, fashion, and presentation, and the nature of the performance spaces. (For the curious, there is plenty of Rockstone content available via popular social media video sharing sites.)
It is hard to recommend Is it Sweet? for anyone trying to learn about Rockstone’s music, creative process, or life. Even as a document of the Ghanian diaspora in the United States its value is limited. Perhaps this movie will be of greatest interest to libraries collecting experimental film. And for those supporting anthropology or African studies, there are quite likely many documentaries that are more effective.