This post is a part of our New Voices Section.
Written by Jeannine Brice.
Black Panther is one of the biggest films of 2018. It surpassed its $200 million budget in its opening weekend and has since made 1.3 billion dollars at the worldwide box office. It’s been praised by filmmakers, critics and fans alike. And it just happens to be a film featuring a majority black cast and director. I knew it was going to be something special. I had never seen a movie so steeped in black culture with majority black creators be embraced by the mainstream like this. It made me proud, that people who looked like me were being highlighted in such a powerful way. I immediately thought of Hollywood Shuffle.
I remember falling in love with the film Meteor Man, from 1993. Filmmaker Robert Townsend created his own superhero in an effort to put a positive black image into the world using comedy and social commentary. He gave himself the chance to play a character that would sadly not be out there otherwise for a black actor. But before Meteor Man, he directed Hollywood Shuffle, released in 1987, written by Keenen Ivory Wayans and Townsend respectively. It told the story of Bobby, a young black actor who has a chance at a big movie role. While it’s his dream to be an actor, he feels conflicted about perpetuating stereotypes of black actors only portraying lesser characters’ like slaves, pimps, and in this case, a gang leader.
I saw this as a “prequel” in a sense to Black Panther. So I watched ‘Shuffle just days before its release. I was impressed by the way Townsend expressed profound messages with comedy and managed to convey the stigma of being black in Hollywood. He establishes how much Bobby’s younger brother idolizes him. He dresses and moves like him, helps him run lines. This causes most of Bobby’s conflict. Does he really want to tell his little brother that all he can be is a negative stereotype? There are some great comedic fantasy sequences, satirizing black roles as slaves, servants, and the like. Even one about a black acting school where white instructors teach black actors how to jive talk and walk “Black.”. In other dreams, Bobby imagines himself as a slick detective, solving the crime and getting the girl, an epic “Rambo-esque” action hero, rising from the water, machine gun in hand and even a superhero, flying above the city, ultimately waking with a smile.
Seeing ‘Shuffle just before Black Panther gave the latter that much more weight and significance for me. This double feature became a ‘full circle’ moment. Starting with a glimpse at where we wanted to go and continuing (not ending), with us seeing it come to fruition in such spectacular fashion. Townsend conceived and dreamed of this change 30 years ago. So I write this just to say that films can be dreams put on screen and this double feature reminds us to dream big.
I’m Jeannine Brice, a Graphic Designer from Fresno California. I have a bachelors degree in graphic design from Fresno State University. I’m Canadian by birth and Trinidadian by heritage but forever a California girl. I’m an avid movie fan and compete in Collider Video’s Movie Trivia Schmoedown YouTube show as “JEANNINE THE MACHINE.”