At first I wasn’t too excited about reviewing the new documentary out in theaters July 19—Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp. But when I realized that rock musician, author, actor, public speaker and director Ice-T was one of the executive producers, I decided to give it a shot. And the documentary, presented in a mixed media format, does not disappoint. It is a brilliant retrospective of a man who went from nothing to fame as a glorified pimp to a celebrated author and then to working a job as an exterminator killing mice and roaches.
The documentary, which was first screened at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, reveals through interviews with Iceberg Slim, who was born in Chicago in 1918 and whose given name is Robert Maupin; his daughters and first wife, Betty Beck; Snoop Lion; Leon Kennedy; Quincy Jones; Bill Duke; Chris Rock; as well as clinical psychologist Dr. Seth Kadish, a man who was born into a situation where at an early age he was abandoned or violated by women in his life.
According to press materials, “Iceberg’s early life was fraught with physical and mental abuse and a temptation and fascination with crime. As an infant, he was physically abused by his father, and as a toddler he was sexually molested by a baby sitter.” At the early age of 6, Iceberg first became enamored with street life. “My mother had a beauty shop, and she catered to a colony of Black hookers and pimps. I wanted to become a pimp so I could have all those beautiful clothes, diamonds and women, that’s how I got street poisoned,” Iceberg Slim said. The documentary also reveals that as a young boy, Iceberg witnessed his mother destroying their happy home when she decided to run off with a con man who physically abused Iceberg and made her an accomplice in his crimes and then promptly dumped her. All of these situations poisoned him and thrust him into a life of crime, until he was finally arrested.
And while Iceberg might have ruled his stable of women, which he first acquired at age 21, he was ill fitted in society, when trying to go straight after having been arrested 11 times and finally being released from Chicago’s Cook County Jail. As a female, I had reservations about the documentary because of the subject matter, and even while screening it across the country, the director, Jorge Hinojosa, said he ran into women who were just as baffled that such a documentary could be made. “They [Toronto Film Festival] basically had thousands of movies from which to select only a few, and our documentary was shown five of six times during the festival,” said Hinojosa, who has been Ice-T’s manager for nearly 15 years. “There are a lot of people who embrace the sentiment that they don’t want to know about a pimp, but the documentary blows their minds,” he added. “In Dallas I asked a woman who leads a group of women’s rights advocates for those who have been victimized, and she loved the documentary.” He explained that he has an 11-year-old daughter and that he wouldn’t present anything that would be disrespectful or harmful to her.
Indeed, the documentary covers “A-Z” all facets of Iceberg Slim’s life, including when at the age of 42, after more than 20 years of living the “pimp life,” he goes to Los Angeles to restore his relationship with his sick mother and eventually marries his first wife, who encourages him to write his life story. This initial urging resulted in his first book, “Pimp: The Story of My Life,” being written and published in 1967 by Holloway House Publishers. He goes on to become a celebrated author of “gritty, urban literature”—the likes of which hadn’t been known before—that has been translated into at least five foreign languages.
“The world he exposed me to in his book ‘Pimp’ was cruel, tragic, oppressive, fascinating, and it was also the reality of the inner cities across America,” said Hinojosa. According to press materials, “As the painful story unfolds, Iceberg Slim reinvents himself, and his transformation from pimp to author makes him an inspiration to many well known and respected artists. The authentic, unfiltered, autobiographical work of Iceberg Slim is considered to be the genesis of Blaxploitation films and Gangster rap and it continues to influence artists today.”
Ice-T, who is such a delightful subject to interview, drew the parallels between his life and Iceberg Slim’s. “This movie shows a man who really in the beginning… you hate his guts, and he changes his life,” said Ice-T. “Being an exterminator and to having a marriage with mixed kids right in Watts during the 1960’s had to be tough.” Ice-T continued that Iceberg Slim went from having a great life to living in near poverty and dying in 1992 from complications of diabetes. “At that point, he was out of the game, and he parallels my life. I came from a horrific Z to a positive A, and I live trying to perfect this transition daily.”
Hinojosa added: “During his later life, Iceberg Slim was broke, and he lived in South Central Los Angeles in a little hovel of an apartment. He had a hard time becoming a part of society. He once said in an interview that the only time that he dealt with white men was when they were looking for Black pussy.”
Ice-T, 55, who was once a “gangsta rapper” and sold drugs and even, according to the documentary, attempted a pimp life, says that he never wants to go back to where he used to be. “We attempted to pimp, but you are not a professional unless you pay your rent doing it. I never pimped hard enough to buy a car.” He added that he loves his life now, which includes a starring role on television’s “Law and Order SVU” and giving motivational speeches at venues such as HarvardUniversity. “I have the ability to go places that at one time I couldn’t. I handle things differently in the street, now, and I have to let things roll off of me. I am not getting soft; it is just that I have a lot more to lose at this point.”
Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, adopted his name from Iceberg Slim, after he started rapping many verses about Iceberg Slim and fans encouraged him. “They called me Tre, and they would tell me to say some more of that ‘ice’ stuff, so Ice-T is short for Iceberg Tea.”
He also spoke about some young artists who continue to get into trouble, even after they have achieved some notoriety. “They haven’t made the transition. I understood that I had to change my behavior, but it’s not easy, you know sometimes you want to smack the shit out of people. Your ideals have to change, and I am so proud that I have gotten over to this other world, and I am bringing some of my friends along and helping them heed to this new philosophy.”
Indeed, at the end of the documentary, Iceberg Slim warns wannabe pimps that he made a lot of money, but he blew it all on dope and clothes. And I submit working as an exterminator after having had all imaginable riches isn’t too glamorous. But I do herald the work of this team and thought it was important that an expert chimed in about the psychological devices at work in the pimp’s and prostitute’s minds, as far as the sex trade is concerned.
Finally, Ice-T said that Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp is “an honest portrayal of the man’s life, and the biggest lesson is that redemption is possible. No matter where you start, at any point, a human being can become something else and change.”
Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp is in limited release. For more information, visit www.icebergslimmovie.com or check your local theater listings.