Here’s the thing, and please follow this closely, you do not have to be familiar with or a fan of Wu-Tang or even know, or care, who the RZA is to enjoy “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” now playing on Hulu.
I’m tipping my proverbial cap at the writing skills that screenwriter Tse possess and the vision and dogged determination of RZA (Bobby Diggs) and all of the men that make up Wu-Tang. They did more than just dare, they accomplished, and their success continues.
The 10-episode scripted series is much bigger than just being an origin story. It begins there, of course, giving the audience a glimpse into how the Staten Island crew changed hip-hop forever. Imagine the type of vision one must hold on to—in Staten Island (not sexy Manhattan, or the gritty Bronx) to make the “impossible” — possible. It’s King Kong big!
Let’s go back to the early 1990s. New York City was being ravaged by the crack cocaine epidemic, and many Black and Brown people were making ends meet in the drug game. Bobby Diggs aka RZA (Bobby Diggs), worked to bring together a dozen young, black men who wanted more but were torn between a life in the shadows and a career in music. The journey winds through the group’s formation against a backdrop of socio-economic inequality i.e. poverty as they slowly evolve from being local rappers to making a place for themselves in the history of hip-hop. After releasing their critically acclaimed 1993 debut album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” things begin to change including the embodiment of their alter egos.
In the spirit of change, Bobby Diggs became RZA. Dennis Coles transformed into Ghostface Killah. Gary Grice became GZA. Corey Woods shifted into Raekwon. Clifford Smith aka “Shotgun” became Method Man and Russell Jones eventually settled into Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Success grows success and their membership would grow to include Masta Killa, U-God, Inspectah Deck, and longtime collaborator Cappadonna.
The joy in watching this series is being introduced to the characters that make up Wu-Tang history. In truth, there is enough meat for a second season, at least. The creators kept the story much like the group’s life, meaning it’s raw and complex.
It all starts moving when RZA pours himself—utterly—into making his dream of making his music a reality.
Actor Ashton Sanders gives life to his role as RZA. You can’t tear your eyes away; he captures the soul of the dreamer and the internal struggle between following his passion for music and providing for his family
Young RZA is surrounded by drugs and crime like a fish in a fishbowl. But he can hear the poetry of the streets and he knows, in his heart, hip-hop is a way out for all of them.
Real-life members of Wu-Tang were involved in the making of the 10-episode series so it’s without that phony, Hollywood gloss.
The struggle is real and they have no shame in telling you how they survived as street-level “businessmen” fighting in brutal turf wars. And through the hell they rose, together, to become something brand new and powerful. It’s a story filled from top to bottom with inspiration.
Much like life, this series takes it time choosing to invite us into the inner workings of the minds of the young men. And then we go into the music studio with RZA and company and by then … we, like Wu-Tang, are ready.
“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” is well written, well-directed and well-acted and best described as a character-driven, coming-of-age drama about Black men who found a way to live their dreams. A lot of inspiration for the series is drawn from “The Wu-Tang Manual,” RZA’s first written piece to the thought process and history of hip-hop’s original dynasty; the “Tao of Wu,” the second cerebral book, and the true story of the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan. Talk about vision —my God—there is genius here.
“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” stars Shameik Moore (as Corey Woods/Raekwon), Dave East (Clifford Smith/Shotgun/Method Man), TJ Atoms (Russell Jones/Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Johnell Young (Gary Grice/GZA), Siddiq Saunderson (Dennis Coles/Ghostface Killah), Marcus Callender, Julian Elijah Martinez, Zolee Griggs, and Erika Alexander, Samuel Mckoy-Johnson, and Amyrh Harris.
“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” is created and written by Alex Tse and RZA, and executive produced by Tse, RZA, Brian Grazer, Michael Rosenberg and Francie Calfo.
“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” now playing on Hulu.