Tag Archive: robert townsend


 

So like a lot of you, I’m getting geared up to see Red Tails in a couple of weeks.  To get my mind ready for that, I went on Netflix Instant this weekend and rewatched A Soldier’s Story for the first time in what must have been 2o years.  The trailers already let us know that in terms of action sequences there’s not going to be a contest between the two films.  But as far as story goes…the jury is going to be out for a few more weeks.  I never wrote about this really good film when I did this blog’s signature list a couple of years back, but it’s never too late to do an honorable mention breakdown.  You can search the blog if you aren’t aware/forgot what the five categories stand for:

Relevance: The film is about a black captain going down to Louisiana during World War II to do an investigation of the murder of another black officer, most likely by the Ku Klux Klan.  Need I say more?

Legacy: Men of Honor is a great film, and I have a soft spot for Cadence (Oh don’t you know, that’s the sound of the man, working on the chain…ga-a-ang!), but I can’t look at Red Tails without looking at A Soldier’s Story as a direct descendant with its period story and primarily black male cast.  Is there a Denzel Washington, a David Alan Grier, a Howard Rollins, a Robert Townsend in the movie about to come out?  Could be; time will tell I guess.

Craft: I named four black actors and there’s another five faces you know in this movie as ‘That Guy’ even if you would have to look up their names.  The film is based on an off Broadway play, and there’s enough A game in this film to replace the actors who were replaced from the Broadway production.

Crossover: Not much.  To this day this is one of those, by us for us films.

Apollo: Outside of the references to the Negro Leagues that definitely went over my head as a kid, I completely forgot Patti LaBelle was in this movie.  Doing Patti LaBelle things. And yes, that’s a compliment.

So we’re all on to Red Tails in a couple weeks.  The standard has been estabished…

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The metrics I get back have made it clear that the signature piece of this blog in its lifetime has been ‘The 25 Most Important Black Films & TV Shows’ that I wrote a couple years back.  When new people seek out either me or a project I talked about, the search engines will usually spit out a link to a review to one of those pieces.

So here’s what I did this weekend…

1. Long overdue really, but I added a ‘Popular Topics’ tab over there on the right.  From there, you can select ’25 MIF & TV’ (or any other major topic), and find all the pieces I wrote related to that one topic.

2. As of late I’ve gained the ability to place YouTube links directly into my posts (which I didn’t have when I created that lists two years back.  So without re-ranking the lists, I went back and added clips to the vast majority of posts I did related to that category. In a lot of the cases, I was able to go from talking about a scene to just putting the scene I was referring to into the post.

3. For most of the films I just found a trailer so if you haven’t seen the film, you can judge for yourself (based on how it was originally marketed) if you want to track it down. It is QUITE funny to see how dated 70s, 80s and 90s trailers look to us now. In the case of Hollywood Shuffle and She’s Gotta Have It, it’s really interesting to see a young Spike Lee and Robert Townsend use the trailer to personally try to sell you into seeing their debut films.  Independent cinema, baby!

4. Finally, just to start your week right, 2 of the best minutes of ‘black film’ in recent memory.  AIM HIGH WILLIS!!! AIM HIGH!!!!

 

hollywood_shuffle

Hollywood Shuffle was the first film written, directed, produced by and starring Robert Townsend.  The autobiographical tale is simple enough; a young black actor finally gets his break in the Business, winning the part of the lead pimp in a ‘black’ mashup of West Side Story.  The role is so brutally stereotypical though, he wonders if he’s selling out his race just to get ahead.  Before anyone sends me a note in all caps asking ‘HOW IN THE BLUE HELL IS HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE SO LOW ON YOUR LIST?!?”, I ask you to read the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  My counter argument begins here.  According to my ranking system, there are only 2 films in my ’25 Best’ breakdown that are either equal to or ranked higher than Hollywood Shuffle in this category.  The plot alone would rank it high in this category; the cast (which included besides Townsend a young Keenen Ivory Wayans and a younger John Witherspoon) adds to the relevance category; and the actual devices used in the movie (more on that later) make Hollywood Shuffle one of the most relevant black films ever made.

Legacy: For the sheer number of talents who appeared in this film, I would argue Townsend and Wayans are the only two who truly ‘jumped off’ to the next stage based on Hollywood Shuffle.  The story of ‘how’ this film was made (Townsend putting the half the $100,000 budget on personal credit cards, getting the crew to wear UCLA shirts since the cops rarely harass ‘students’) is as much part of Hollywood Shuffle’s legacy as anything else.

Craft: OK friends, let’s be honest with each other.  How many of you really remember this movie because of the plot?  How many of you even remembered the plot before I spelled it out in the first paragraph?  How many scenes can you quote from that revolved around the ‘plot’?  Even those of you (like me) who love this movie know good and well the ‘story’ is not why you love this film.  It’s “Winky Dinky Dog,”, it’s the black “Siskel and Ebert,” “Black Acting School,” “Jheri Curl,”…man I could go on, but the point is the skits that make up the film are what Hollywood Shuffle stand out.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it means compared to other ‘films’, Hollywood Shuffle has trouble keeping up.

Crossover: Whew, another rough category in my opinion.  Even with the number of classic skits in this movie, I can’t recall one white (or Hispanic or Asian) friend of mine ever talking about this film.  If you look back at the course of Robert Townsend’s career, I don’t know if he ever had the goal of crossing over to the mainstream, so you can’t fault somebody if they’re not really trying. But this is the crossover category…

Apollo: Some of the skits are naturally funnier than others, but the ‘interrogation of Jheri Curl’ still gets me to laugh out loud every time.  For those of you haven’t seen the movie, Jheri Curl (played by Keenen Ivory Wayans) turns out to be the killer of this young cat, but he won’t confess until he gets his curl activator taken away and his hair starts drying up…oh, just YouTube it (or better yet, watch the whole movie on Hulu (and no I didn’t get paid for that plug.))

So the hits keep coming.  Come back in a few weeks for my next pick, which might also be seen as ‘controversial’ in a different light…