You would think that with songs like “Disco Inferno,” “Many Men,” and “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy,” rapper 50 Cent — a.k.a. Curtis Jackson — would be a gay icon. But over the years, Jackson has said and rapped a lot of garbage about queer people. He’s hoping to make amends now. Starting Monday night, you can watch him on the new Sundance Channel reality show Dream School, where he’ll spend 30 days mentoring a trans boy named Alan.
“It’s interesting,” Jackson said during the premiere episode, which you can watch in its entirety here. “Once you achieve a certain level of success, you start to be interested in your legacy. And people who do things for others resonate the strongest.”
Until recently, Jackson’s legacy has been marred by a pattern of denigrating queers — particularly gay men — in his art and life. In a 2004 Playboy interview, he said, “I ain’t into faggots. I don’t like gay people around me, because I’m not comfortable with what their thoughts are. I’m not prejudiced. I just don’t go with gay people and kick it — we don’t have that much in common. I’d rather hang out with a straight dude. But women who like women, that’s cool. I could actually get into that, having a woman who likes women too. We might have more in common.”
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Jackson — whose mother was a lesbian — claimed that he was never anti-gay and that his words have been misrepresented in the past. “When you actually make music that mirrors the environment, you use the terminology,” he explained. “You use the language. Like if you were making a painting, and you were painting the American flag, if I told you to do that, and not use red, not use the harsh terms or the tougher messages, you would never successfully paint the flag.”
Let’s, for the sake of space and sanity, not parse through the various fallacies at play in Jackson’s analogy. Instead, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and wait to see how his change plays out on “Dream School.”
“50 Cent has street cred,” said Jackson’s fellow celebrity mentor David Arquette. “He ran with the wrong crowd, he’s gotten into trouble, he did things he wasn’t so proud of. But he worked through all that, and through hard work, he became a successful musician, entrepreneur, philanthropist. It’s gonna be interesting to see how he relates to these kids.”
Dream School is the brain child of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who produced a similar series in England in 2011. Here, as in England, Oliver helps to pair young people who haven’t succeeded in traditional school environments with celebrities and leaders who help them to awaken their passions and productivity. Mentors for the American version also include Rainbow Coalition founder Rev. Jesse Jackson and millionaire lesbian Suze Orman.