March 2014 Throwback Movie of the Month: Hollywood Shuffle

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For the first time, I caught Hollywood Shuffle on my boyfriend’s DVR. The movie came highly recommended by several people and I was not disappointed. The 1987 movie stars Robert Townsend (co-writer, director and producer) as aspiring actor, Bobby Taylor. The over-enthused Bobby Taylor quickly realizes that his daytime job as a hot dog boy is not helpful for his acting career after he lands a big role as a street thug in a major production.

Bobby’s success raises a lot of questions in the Black community about stereotypical roles. The great gig even rallies protesters. Internally, Bobby is facing a tough decision: Does he cater to the these stereotypical, demeaning roles to get his foot in the acting door? Or does he stand up to Hollywood executives and casting directors by denouncing the roles and others like it?

Hollywood Shuffle is undoubtedly funny, but it has an even deeper message. Are we willing to sell our souls for temporary gain? The even bigger message for actors, movie lovers, and Hollywood is the idea that African Americans are only subject to certain roles- maids, whores, street thugs, pimps, and slaves.

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Robert Townsend held the prestige versatility of Eddie Murphy long before his time. While he acts and produces, the finished product is always enjoyable. He also dabbles in TV as well. In the mid 90s, he had a family sitcom on the WB called The Parent ‘Hood. He uses specific imagery like daydreaming or creating over the top characters.

Because he doesn’t push the envelope as much as Spike Lee or use predictable humor like Tyler Perry, Robert Townsend still goes down as one of the best Black directors of all time. His movies range in genre and audience, and can be caught on many different TV networks. My favorite Robert Townsend movies are The Meteor Man (1993), B*A*P*S (1997), Jackie’s Back! (1999), Holiday Heart (2000), and Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001).

3.5 Stars: I definitely think I would have appreciated the movie more when it originally came out. (Even though the movie was released before I was born) But, nonetheless, the movie is some of Robert Townsend’s best work, a much needed play on the stereotypical and sometimes racist flaws of Hollywood. Seeing the movie recently only solidifies that while Lupita Nyong’o still received her Oscar recently for portraying a slave, the movie industry has evolved with classifying roles for African American. Black actors are most definitely breaking down barriers!

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