Toronto — It wasn’t your typical movie premiere.
During Thursday’s opening night of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, the Eminem-produced battle-rap saga “Bodied” celebrated its world premiere before an amped up, sold-out midnight crowd at the Ryerson Theatre.
Prior to the film’s start, battle-rap classics from Jay-Z’s “Takeover” to 2Pac’s “Hit Em Up” pumped through the theater and a beach ball was batted around the audience. While many in attendance were hoping to catch a glimpse of Eminem — fans in line toted Eminem LPs and other pieces of memorabilia they were hoping to get signed by the rapper — Slim Shady himself was nowhere to be seen. But his spirit was all over the movie.
Introducing the film, director Joseph Kahn (“Detention,” “Torque”) sang the praises of battle-rap as an art form and prepared himself for the worst. “I hope my career doesn’t end tonight,” he said with a chuckle.
He need not have worried. The raucous comedy, which follows a college student (Disney Channel vet Calum Worthy) who is studying battle-rap as an art form and winds up becoming a vicious battle-rapper himself, played like gangbusters to the crowd. The film is a minefield of racial and ethnic jokes — no group comes out unscathed — but that’s the point of the film, Kahn explained during a post-film Q&A session.
Kahn, a celebrated music video director whose clip for Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” recently smashed the record for most YouTube plays in a single day, said he’d wanted to make a film about battle-rap for years but couldn’t land on anywhere to take it. After frequently getting roasted on Twitter for jokes that were deemed offensive by various groups, he decided to focus “Bodied” on “the consequences of language,” and he used battle-rap as “a mechanism to explore the far reaches of free speech.”
Eminem, along with his manager Paul Rosenberg, got involved with the project early; Kahn has collaborated with Eminem going back to 2002’s “Without Me” video. Kahn said he kept Em’s involvement with the project a secret even from his crew, though co-writer Alex Larsen said he was wondering why he was getting specific notes on punching up jokes that reference “8 Mile,” of which there are several.
Rosenberg was among those in attendance at Thursday’s premiere, along with Worthy, Larsen, and cast members Dizaster, Rory Uphold, Jackie Long and Charlamagne Tha God.
Following the screening, Larsen said he was overjoyed with how it went.
“I think it was incredible,” the Toronto-based writer said. “The crowd was just on fire. They were laughing at all the lines, they were super into it. I’m on cloud nine.”
Besides “Bodied,” Eminem has a history with the Toronto International Film Festival; “8 Mile” premiered at the fest in 2002.