Hollywood Shuffle

ROBERT TOWNSEND

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.  USA, 1987.  Conquering Unicorn.  Screenplay by , Robert Townsend, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by Robert Townsend.  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Independent Spirit Awards 1987.  

does a fantastic job of taking Hollywood to task for its narrow portrayals of African Americans in the movies throughout the decades; it’s a shame that the quality of his movie isn’t up to par with the message, but that doesn’t mean you’ll regret watching it. He’s thoroughly likable as a struggling actor in L.A. whose job at a hot dog stand is hanging by a thread because of his constantly missing shifts to attend auditions. When an opportunity comes up to play an eccentrically strange villain in a big-time television show, he realizes that this is his chance to make it in the big time. While waiting for it to happen, he indulges in fantasy versions of famous Hollywood genres reimagined with black men and women in lead roles, plus includes some skits like a black version of Siskel & Ebert and a Hollywood “Black Acting School” where out-of-touch Hollywood whites teach black people how to behave on film in a way that America recognizes. By the time he reaches the finish line with his Hollywood moment, Townsend finds himself wondering if he’s really doing what he’s always dreamed of or if he isn’t just simply helping to perpetuate a tired stereotype. Lots of sharp criticism and commentary without any judgmental bitterness, but unfortunately the construction is just terrible:  the film is poorly directed and many of the fantasy asides last far too long, evidence of it having been shot sporadically and quickly (seventeen shooting dates spread out over two years, financed personally by Townsend on his credit cards). Co-written and co-starring , whose ideas for his later, brilliant television show In Living Colour were obviously germinating here.

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