The Wu-Tang Clan is one of the most celebrated and impactful musical groups in history. In our era of transparency, it is only fitting that a biopic of sorts would materialize itself. Telling the complete story of a group as large as the Clan isn’t feasible (not to mention any adjacent characters) in 90 minutes (the pre-requisite for big-screen biopics). Therefore, enter Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
In 2019, the Emmy-nominated Hulu original series rehashed the rise of the legendary hip-hop group. Written by Alex Tse and RZA and executive produced by Tse, RZA, Method Man, Brian Grazer, Michael Rosenberg and Francie Calfo, the series debuted on Wednesday, September 4 with three episodes and followed with an ensuing episode each week, in honor of #WuTang Wednesday.
Inspired by RZA’s guide to the clan, The Wu-Tang Manual and its follow-up, Toa of Wu, the series is set in the early in 1990s Staten Island, New York during the peak of the crack epidemic. It follows the formation of the clan through the lens of RZA. Bobby Diggs’ (RZA) love for music and producing gives him hope for making it out of the inner-cities of Staten Island. His ambitions also include formulating a super-group highlighting the borough’s talent, hoping to harness their untapped potential. What stands in their way are the allures of the street life, the drug trade and vices that have ruined many a dream for young minorities.
The series format resembles that of The Get Down— a Netflix original series that gave a fictionalized chronology of hip hop’s birth — yet, Wu-Tang: An American Saga has intensity and realism (felt from the opening scene and onward) that outpaces the former. While the screenplay is captivating on its own (who doesn’t want to have some semblance of an idea of how the most unique rap group ever was formed?), the acting makes it that much more enjoyable. Rappers Dave East and Joey Badass each embody their respective roles. Dave East, who had the challenge of portraying the Clan’s most mainstream member in Method Man and in his first real acting gig, does an honorable job of representing the hip hop legend. Moonlight actor Ashton Sanders’ portrayal of RZA is award-worthy, from his speech to his mannerisms; the production value is very high.
Although based in the 1990s, issues tackled are those that are still prevalent in present-day black inner-cities. Obstacles such as poverty, crime, the inner workings of the drug trade as well as the corruption that follows, are all issues the main characters have to bypass on their way to success.
In that same vein of realism, characters are also seen hitting rock-bottom and having to reinvent themselves to ascend to greater heights. Young black males are forced to be the man of the house at young ages (seen with RZA’s brother Divine, who was the family’s main provider through his drug dealings). With illegal affairs such a big part of the series, the consequences of the street life and the dangers that it invites are also highlighted. The inevitable run-ins with the law, prison sentences, prison life, the pain of a mother losing a son and the gut-wrenching feeling of wanting to change your environment and the helplessness one feels in those moments are all captivating themes that the series explores. The destitution of the “hood” leads many of the Clan members to follow the five percent teachings and philosophies they’ve gone on to (along with many other notable hip hop acts) popularize in their music.
Even though many of the accounts have been dramatized/fictionalized, it is still really fun to get insight on the influences that made the Clan unique. For example, RZA’s creativity and genius comes from his quick thinking and ability to solve problems and applying those abilities into his production. We also get an idea as to how he became the group’s de facto leader, as he was playing peacemaker between members long before platinum records.
Wu-Tang: An American Saga is must-watch television. Not only is it informative, the cast – which ranges from Shameik Moore, Ashton Sanders, to Dave East and Joey Badass. do an exemplary job of portraying each respective pioneer of the Clan. With no big-screen release date to rush storylines, writers can take ample time to figure out the best cross between dramatic/entertaining television and re-counting the tales of some of the most important figures in rap history.