Hollywood Shuffle (1987)


Where would we be without black actors? Maybe no Django? Or maybe not even the Django outrage?

Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) is a young, black male aspiring to be a the “next big thing in Hollywood”. He day dreams about it a lot, talks about it a lot, and even skips his work days just for that a lot, but he soon finds out that it’s a lot harder to be the “next big thing”, especially when race comes into play. Then again though, it’s Hollywood, so what the hell could ya expect when they want you to be the next Denzel, the next Morgan, or the next Sidney?!?

It blows that Robert Townsend doesn’t do much nowadays for the sole-purpose that his career started off with so much promise and inspiration, that it was all but obvious that it would eventually fall from grace and put him back down into the unknown league he was in before. Some may not even realize how much of an influence that guy had over some African-Americans back the day, but he really did, just by making a little film himself. Don’t believe me, watch an episode of Chappelle’s Show, then come back to this, and see where the inspiration came from.

See? It all goes together.

Working at a hot dog shack for the rest of your life can't be all that bad. Probably better than playing "drug dealer #4" for the rest of your life.
Working at a hot dog shack for the rest of your life can’t be all that bad. Probably better than playing “drug dealer #4” for the rest of your life.

Back in ’87, Townsend knew that it was hard for a black person to get their own, little film off the ground so he thought the best way would be to just max out all of his credit cards, direct and produce the film himself, ask his buddies for some help, and see how everything played out. It’s a pretty brave move to pull, a move that helped him out along with his buddies, but it’s also so brave because of the film that he actually created here. This is one of those films that is so funny because it makes fun of the right people, in the right ways. It’s obviously shading a gray-area on liberal-Hollywood that’s all about giving black people, roles in movies like drug dealers, pimps, or some sort of trouble-makers. Rarely ever do you see the smart, intelligent black man that went to Harvard, exceeded with flying colors in the real world, and lived a happy, peaceful life. They’re black, so obviously they have to be gang-banging in some way, right? Well, that’s where Townsend seems to be going with this material, and it’s as insightful now, as it was back then because certain things have changed, and certain things haven’t.

However, the film is most funny when Townsend breaks up the story with his random dream-like montages where he makes fun of certain pop-culture by placing black people in the leads. One skit I thought was very funny was Black Acting School 101, where it’s Townsend talking about this acting school where white people teach black people how to act “black”. It’s pretty freakin’ funny and the only reason why it’s so funny as it is and isn’t as offensive as it should be, is because it’s written by black people themselves. Yeah, that’s a bit of a racist statement to make in a way too, but it’s only the truth here. Townsend and his buds obviously know how to write a funny comedy about the culture they live in and see everyday, even if that culture is their own. Always nice to see that some ddues are able to make fun of others, while also being able to point the fingers towards themselves as well. Need that more in Hollywood nowadays.

A lot of what Townsend and Co. do end up satirizing and talking about, are pretty true and I think that’s where this film works the best in. Townsend, apparently, went through a lot of the same shit these characters are going through where numerous casting directors would try to get him to act more…black. Townsend frowns upon this, obviously, and shows exactly why it makes his culture look even dumber but he also puts a nice frown upon certain actors that do take those kind of dumb-ass, black roles (*cough* *cough* Eddie Murphy *cough* *cough*). Townsend doesn’t seem like he’s mad for this or even vengeful for this, he’s just very tongue-in-cheek and proves some very good points about African-American culture that even still sticks, despite an obvious change in where our movies are going with the usage of black actors, and black characters.

However, as brutally honest and sometimes hilarious this film can be, there was something lacking in Townsend’s narrative structure. The original story here, is pretty boring and your usual “young guy wants to be an actor” type of story that is only spiced up whenever the main character starts day-dreaming about different types of “What if…” situations. Some of them are very funny, but others, are funny at first but then start to go on for too long and get a bit too dry for my taste. One skit in particular was when Townsend substituted two black guys for Siskel & Ebert on their own version of the show, which may have started off very funny and full of promise, only began to go downhill, once it hit that seven-minute mark and you realized that they are still constantly going on about how they snuck into the theaters, stole their own snacks, and are about to get caught by the theater stuff. Funny once or twice, but after awhile; it’s the same joke, over-and-over again.

"So, I guess nobody has the time on them?"
“So, I guess nobody has the time on them?”

The cast is filled with a bunch of people we have all seen in tons and tons of random ish throughout the years, but the film’s main charm is through Robert Townsend who actually makes a pretty endearing character as Bobby Taylor. His character as Bobby is a good guy but it’s really impressive to see Townsend go through all of these different types of styles and pull ’em off very well. The guy also does a killer impersonation of Eddie Murphy and it’s a real wonder why this guy didn’t get any more love after this because he had some true talent to show off. Kind of sucks though, especially when you think about how d-heads like these two are somehow still getting in movies, and you’re still waiting for that next, big break to come your way.

Consensus: Hollywood Shuffle hits the right moments in terms of what it’s trying to say, how smart it can be, and where it shows our culture headed, if we continue this way, but it doesn’t always work with the loosey-goosey narration, and only shows that Townsend was a little bit inexperienced as a director.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Where DC's been heading as of late, would not be the least bit surprised if they went this direction next.
Where DC’s been heading as of late, would not be the least bit surprised if they went this direction next.
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6 comments

  1. I remember loving and being very impressed by that movie and was sad not to see more movies by him. Thanks for the great review and for the reminder of how original and interesting this film is.

  2. I have never even heard of this one. I hate when joked become too overplayed in a film. It’s always like, “trim the scene down and that would be GREAT.” At any rate, definitely sounds like one worthy of checking out. Love that the humor works for the most part!

    Lauren from http://www.shootingstarsmag.blogspot.com

  3. I’m glad to see someone else likes this little gem. I didn’t have an issue with the narrative structure because I saw this back when it came to video and other films were doing the sort of “sketch comedy” movies wrapped in thin plots that this did (Amazon Women on the Moon is an example.)

    I LOVED the Black Acting School skit. It makes fun of the Mandingo type movies, the Stepin Fetchit performances, and the Jungle Fever of white women all in less than a minute. Then to have him break into the Shakespearean dialogue showing how “you too can act black” was laugh out loud funny.

    I agree that it was too bad that he didn’t get to do more independent films. Just a few years later Kevin Smith would do Clerks, Spike Lee would do She’s Gotta Have it, and Robert Rodriguez would do El Mariachi. All three got a hand up from these efforts and their careers were made. Maybe Townshend was just a few years too soon.

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