What does Spring Breakers, a movie about four college girls who rob a bank to pay for their vacation, which premiered in Venice and Toronto earlier in September, have to do with Texas? To start, one of the movie’s stars, James Franco (he who almost attended the University of Houston’s creative writing program) and director Harmony Korine were embroiled in a (very) mini-controversy with Houson-area rapper Riff Raff earlier this year.
Riff Raff is an Internet viral sensation, due in large part to his role on the MTV reality series From G’s to Gents. But he’s also a cultivating a semi-successful rapping career (he was recently signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label). His eccentric and unusual style–he wears white contact lenses, has covered his body in brand logos (MTV and BET) and often sports a sparkly grill–makes it tough to determine if he’s serious or if this Riff Raff character is an elaborate piece of performance art. Like any of it matters. He’s plastered all over YouTube and his videos have racked up millions of hits. Here’s a taste of his musical style:
Back to the nontroversy. In March, when Spring Breakers was filming, Riff Raff claimed Korine wanted him to star in Spring Breakers. According to Mr. Raff that didn’t work out due to timing issues (he says he was overseas and didn’t get the message in time), but he told Fuse TV’s David Shapiro that Korine still based the movie’s main character, a drug dealer named Alien, on him:
James Franco was in the movie, but I was supposed to be in there also. Now James Franco is playing me.
It was easy to believe. The character was a tall, white rapper who wears cornrows and is tatted up. But Franco shared a different side of the story in a May interview with GQ:
None of that’s true. I’ll tell you why he could have never been offered the role. Harmony (Korine, the movie’s writer and director) and I were talking about doing a movie together before Spring Breakers was even conceived. And then he wrote the script. So there’s no chance Riff Raff could have been offered the role.
Franco goes on to concede that Riff Raff provided some inspiration for his character’s look:
Of course Harmony and I looked at some of Riff Raff’s videos as inspiration, but he was one of a number of people we looked at. I would say the biggest influence on the role was this local Florida rapper named Dangerous. He’s fairly unknown, but he was down there in the place, living the life, and he became the biggest model for me and he’s in the movie.
That isn’t the only Texas connection to this film that Variety described as an “avant-garde trashy-party-flick-meets-post-Scarface-gangster tragedy.” Also starring in Spring Breakers, yet playing against type, is Grand Prairie, Texas–born sweetheart Selena Gomez. Following the film’s Venice premiere, the Guardian sounded the alarm signaling the end of Gomez’s onscreen innocence:
Fans of Selena Gomez and [co-star] Vanessa Hudgens be warned: Spring Breakers is not the usual brand of Sunny Delight. Inside you will find perky Gomez -– Unicef goodwill ambassador and significant other to Justin Bieber -– smoking a bong and talking trash.
The Wizards of Waverly Place star created some professional distance between herself and her Disney Channel counterparts with her performance, according to early reviews, including one by MTV.com:
While Vanessa Hudgens uses her fingers as a gun and shoots at fake targets in the room, Gomez shows a side we’ve never seen before in a sullen monologue about the monotony of her everyday life.
Gomez is also a believer in the power of her performance, telling MTV.com, “People will be a little shocked, I think. I’m a little nervous about it, but honestly, it’s a right step for me, I’m really proud of it.”