Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Townsend|
|Produced by||Robert Townsend|
|Written by|| Keenen Ivory Wayans |
Dom Irrera (uncredited)
|Music by||Udi Harpaz|
|Edited by||W.O. Garrett|
|Distributed by||The Samuel Goldwyn Company|
Hollywood Shuffle is a 1987 American satirical comedy film about the racial stereotypes of African Americans in film and television. The film tracks the attempts of Bobby Taylor to become a successful actor and the mental and external roadblocks he encounters, represented through a series of interspersed vignettes and fantasies. Produced, directed, and co-written by Robert Townsend, the film is semi-autobiographical, reflecting Townsend's experiences as a black actor when he was told he was not "black enough" for certain roles.
Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) is a young black man aspiring to become an actor. His younger brother Stevie (Craigus R. Johnson) watches him prepare to audition for a part in Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge, a movie about street gangs which is so full of stereotypes that the light-skinned black actors who audition are cast as Latino gang members and have to speak with cartoonish Spanish accents. Bobby's grandmother (Helen Martin) overhears the "jive talk" of Bobby's lines and expresses disapproval. His mother (Starletta DuPois) is more supportive, but Bobby's grandmother says that if he desires a respectable job, there is honest work at the post office. Bobby assures his mother that if he lands the part, their lives will change for the better.
After the audition, Bobby talks to Mr. Jones (John Witherspoon), who questions Bobby's dedication to his job at Jones's restaurant, Winky Dinky Dog, because Bobby frequently misses work so he can attend auditions and casting calls. A limousine arrives, and its passenger is B. B. Sanders (Brad Sanders), a famous black actor who plays a stereotypical comedy character, Batty Boy, in the popular sitcom There's a Bat in My House. Ecstatic to meet a potential role model, Bobby asks Sanders how to determine whether a role is a good one. Sanders tells him that if his character does not die, then it's a good part. Sanders says that acting is not about art, it's about making money -- sequels, merchandising, etc.
Bobby's agent calls to say his audition went well, and he got a callback, but the producers want an "Eddie Murphy-type". That night, he has a nightmare in which the director (Eugene Robert Glazer), writer (Dom Irrera), and casting director (Lisa Mende) hound him to become Eddie Murphy. Waiting in line with a group of Eddie Murphy clones, Bobby starts turning into Eddie Murphy himself and then wakes up in shock.
The next day, Bobby's restaurant co-workers, Donald and Tiny (Keenen Ivory Wayans and Lou D. Washington), tell him he will never succeed as an actor, so Bobby quits Winky Dinky Dog. Later that night, he visits his uncle Ray (David McKnight), a singer who gave up a chance at stardom to take a "real" job and provide for his family. Bobby expresses doubts about pursuing acting, but Ray encourages Bobby to follow his dreams. During his callback, the director, writer, and casting director are thrilled at Bobby's performance, and he wins the lead role. He then begins to experience attacks of conscience that manifest as daydreams based on what people around him are saying or doing, including one ("Black Acting School") where white coaches teach black performers how to act "more black", and one ("Sneaking into the Movies") where two young black men gain entry to a theater without paying and review films that spoof popular titles à la At the Movies , including Amadeus Meets Salieri, Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dirty Larry, and Attack of the Street Pimps.
At home, Bobby is celebrating with his girlfriend Lydia (Anne-Marie Johnson) when his grandmother arrives. The three of them watch a film noir, which causes Bobby to fantasize about playing the lead in his own film noir, Death of a Breakdancer . That night, Bobby dreams of the roles that he wants to play, from a Shakespearean king, to a black superhero, to a black version of Rambo ("Rambro"). His final dream depicts him winning his fifth Oscar. The next day, Bobby starts filming Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge with his family in attendance. His guilt about playing a stereotypical character finally overwhelms him, and Bobby quits. Another cast member who previously complained about the stereotypical film hypocritically takes over Bobby's part, but Bobby and his family leave the set with their pride intact.
In the closing scene, Bobby is completing preparations on a different set for an on-camera scene that is about to begin. In an echo of his grandmother's earlier admonition, Hollywood Shuffle ends with Bobby filming a TV PSA for the US Postal Service.
The film was generally well-received, with review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 88% of 24 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.6 out of 10.Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "an artistic compromise but a logistical triumph, announcing the arrival of a new talent whose next movie should really be something." Richard Harrington of the Washington Post calls the film "a funny, poignant and technically proficient film."
Some critics addressed Townsend's use of stereotypes as problematic in his depiction of women and homosexuality. Jami Bernard of the New York Post claims that Townsend is "passing the buck," addressing the misrepresentation of African Americans, but maintaining stereotypes of other groups of people, such as the image of the stereotypical homosexual hairdresser.Harriet Margolis claims that "Townsend ignores gender issues, thereby weakening certain aspects of his own attack on Hollywood's misuse of stereotypes."
1987 Deauville Film Festival
1988 Independent Spirit Awards
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