|Directed by||Robert Townsend|
|Produced by||Robert Townsend|
|Written by||Dom Irrera (uncredited)
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Craigus R. Johnson
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Grand L. Bush
|Music by||Udi Harpaz|
|Edited by||W.O. Garrett|
|Distributed by||The Samuel Goldwyn Company|
|March 20, 1987|
Hollywood Shuffle is a 1987 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.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (December 2012)|
Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) is a middle class black male aspiring to become an actor. He practices his lines in the bathroom, with his younger brother Stevie (Craigus R. Johnson) watching as he plays a stereotypical “jive” character for the audition for "Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge", a movie about street gangs. Bobby's grandmother (Helen Martin) overhears the “jive talk” and shows her disapproval. His mother (Starletta DuPois), is more supportive, telling Bobby that he is going to be late for the audition. Bobby assures his mother that if he lands the part, everything will change. As Bobby is about to leave the house, he finds his grandmother on the couch. Playing on television is a commercial for the sitcom There's a Bat in My House, which poses the question “Can a black bat from Detroit find happiness with a white suburban family?” His grandmother wishes him luck, but still shows visible concern for the nature of the role.
On his way to the audition, he stops by his uncle Ray's (David McKnight) barbershop. He then stops by his workplace at the Winky Dinky Dog hot dog stand where he finds his co-workers Tiny (Lou B. Washington) and Donald (Keenen Ivory Wayans), who berate him, as usual. He asks to see his boss, Mr. Jones (John Witherspoon) and pretends to have an agonizing toothache in order to avoid his scheduled shift. On his last stop before his audition, he goes to his girlfriend's (Anne-Marie Johnson) workplace at a salon where she gives him a scarf for good luck. Finally, he arrives at TinselTown Studios where he finds other aspiring black actors trying out for various roles in the film. There he meets another actor that comments on the degrading nature of roles offered to African Americans who only get to play slaves, butlers, or street hoods. He tells Bobby that only an "Uncle Tom" would take this role. The actor is clearly trying to stymie Bobby's chances, nevertheless it makes him think.
This prompts the first of Bobby's many fantasies. This fantasy involves an escape of black slaves. A butler, played by Bobby, doing a Stepin Fetchit impression, makes an appearance and questions why the slaves are leaving when they are being treated well by their master. This segment is then revealed to be a TV promotion for “Black Acting School”, where aspiring, dark-skinned black actors can learn how to “talk jive” and “walk black” so that they can get roles such as pimps, muggers, and street punks.
After the audition, Bobby talks with Mr. Jones, who questions Bobby's dedication to Winky Dinky Dog. A limo then pulls up and the man inside is revealed to be B.B. Sanders (Brad Sanders), who plays Batty Boy in There's a Bat in My House. Ecstatic, Bobby asks Sanders how to tell a good part. Sanders tells him that if his character does not die in the script, then it's good part. Sanders also says that it is not about art, it is about the sequel.
On the basketball court, Bobby is talking to his friends about acting and Bobby expresses his concern about critical reception. One of his friends states that critics do not know anything and that there should be “real brothers” critiquing movies. The leads into another one of Bobby's fantasies, this one revolving around a film review television show called “Sneakin' in the Movies.” (a parody of Siskel and Ebert), involving two ghetto teenagers. They review four movies: Amadeus meets Salieri, Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dirty Larry, and Attack of the Street Pimps.
After this vignette, Bobby is at home when he gets a call from his agent and learns that his audition went well, but they wanted an “Eddie Murphy-type". Regardless, Bobby gets a callback. That night, he has a nightmare in which the director (Eugene Robert Glazer), writer (Dom Irrera), and casting director (Lisa Mende) hound him to be Eddie Murphy. Waiting in line with a group of Eddie Murphy clones, Bobby starts turning into Eddie Murphy himself until he wakes up in shock.
The next day, Bobby's co-workers, Donald and Tiny, belittle Bobby's career as an actor and his constant excuses for missing work, telling him that he will never make it as an actor. After another vignette involving Bobby, now a famous Hollywood star, returning to Winky Dinky Dog years later to find it nearly ruined, Bobby quits his job.
Later that night, Bobby visits his uncle at the barbershop and expresses his doubts in pursuing his acting career. Ray encourages Bobby to try to follow his dreams. During his callback, the director, writer, and casting director are thrilled at Bobby's performance, calling it “very black” and give him the titular lead role. At home, Bobby celebrates getting the part with his girlfriend Lydia, when his grandmother comes home early and the three watch a film noir. Bobby has another fantasy of him playing the lead in his own film noir, called Death of a Breakdancer.
During his morning routine before his first day on the set of Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge, he finds his little brother's homework assignment expressing his admiration of Bobby and his job as an actor. Bobby's mother and grandmother talk about Bobby's acting gig, with his grandmother disapproving of his career and stressing that he should get his life together and get a job at the post office. She does not like the fact that he is portraying a street hustler and putting out a negative image of African Americans. Bobby then has a vision of his little brother dressed in a pimp outfit.
On the set, Bobby runs into his rival at the audition who congratulates Bobby for getting the part of Jimmy. The rival tells Bobby that he's heard that the movie is going to be picketed by the NAACP, causing Bobby to have a vision of picketers calling Bobby an “Uncle Tom” and a “coon.” His little brother and his grandmother disown him. The vision ends when Lydia, the picketers, and news reporters take out guns and chant “Kill him!”
Lydia, his brother, and his grandmother arrive to watch the film shoot. As he plays his “jive” character Jimmy, he looks over at his brother who is clearly affected by the derogatory role and is unable to finish the scene. The director encourages Bobby to “be more black.” Bobby tries again, but is still unable to complete the scene when he looks over at his brother. Unable to continue playing this degrading part, Bobby decides to quit. His rival immediately volunteers for the role.
That night, Bobby dreams of the roles that he wants to play, from a Shakespearean king, to a black superhero, to Rambro. His final dream is that of him winning his fifth Oscar. In the final moments of the film, Bobby is shown filming a TV commercial, acting as a spokesperson for the post office. He tells us, the audience, that "if you can't take pride in your job, remember that there's always work at the post office." which he says with a wink.
- Robert Townsend as Bobby Taylor, an aspiring young black actor who dreams of making it big in Hollywood. Townsend was also the producer, director, and co-writer of the film. Townsend appears in his daydreaming vignettes as Jasper, the butler; Speed, the film critic; Sam Ace, private investigator; Rambro, war hero.
- Anne-Marie Johnson as Lydia, Bobby's girlfriend who supports him and gives him a scarf for good luck. She also appears in the runaway slave segment of the film as Willie Mae and in Attack of the Street Pimps as a hooker.
- Craigus R. Johnson as Stevie Taylor, Bobby Taylor's younger brother who admires Bobby and his career as an actor.
- Helen Martin as Bobby's Grandmother. She disapproves with Bobby's willingness to depict degrading black stereotypes and would much rather him pursue a job at the post office.
- Starletta DuPois as Bobby's Mother. She is supportive of Bobby even though she agrees with Bobby's Grandmother that degrading roles serve as poor examples for black youth.
- David McKnight as Uncle Ray. A former singer, Uncle Ray now works at a barbershop. Bobby comes to Uncle Ray with his doubts about his acting career. Uncle Ray serves as a guiding light, telling Bobby to follow his dreams.
- Keenen Ivory Wayans as Donald, Bobby's co-worker at Winky Dinky Dog. He discourages Bobby from acting and thinks that Bobby will not make it in Hollywood. Wayans also plays Jheri Curl in the film noir segment of the film.
- Lou B. Washington as Tiny, another one of Bobby's co-workers who discourages him from acting.
- Brad Sanders as Batty Boy, the wealthy star of the television sitcom, “There's a Bat in my House.”
- John Witherspoon as Mr. Jones, Bobby's boss at Winky Dinky Dog. Tries his best to keep Bobby a steady employee but becomes exasperated by Bobby's constant need to attend auditions.
- Eugene Robert Glazer as Director of Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge. He also appears in the “Black Acting School” segment as an instructor, as Amadeus in Amadeus Meets Salieri, as Chicago Jones in Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom, and as Dirty Larry in Dirty Larry.
- Lisa Mende as the Casting Director who constantly demands “more black” from the actors.
- Dom Irrera as Mandrill Man Vacuum, the writer of Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge and who claims to have learned about African Americans only through film and television.
Hollywood Shuffle brings into light the lack of substantial roles for black actors and the misrepresentation of people of color in film and television. Through satire, the film is able to use negative stereotypes put out by mass media and turn them against Hollywood. The film's plot reveals the perceived racism behind the camera that has relegated black actors to take demeaning roles for money and a chance at stardom. This point is personified in the casting director's constant demand for actors to “be more black.”
The script also levels some criticism towards black actors who are willing to take demeaning roles. This is highlighted in the protest skit, when an NAACP spokesman (played by Paul Mooney) states at a press conference, "they'll never play the Rambos until they stop playing the Sambos." The film also offers an authentic glimpse into real middle-class African Americans in stark contrast to the roles they are offered in the film industry, and Bobby Taylor's final words in the movie's final scene can be seen as encouraging pride and respect in the community. With a budget of $100,000, of which $60,000 was funded from Robert Townsend's own credit cards, and grossing over $5 million over the first ten months of release, the film was a resounding independent success, propelling Townsend into stardom.
The film was generally well-received, with review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 87% of 23 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.5 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.”
Awards and nominations
- Grand Special Prize (Critics Award) — Robert Townsend (winner)
- Best First Feature — Carl Craig, Robert Townsend (Nominated)
- I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
- "Hollywood Shuffle (1987)". Box Office Mojo. 1988-07-05. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- Scheer, Laurie. "The Eighties and Nineties." Creative Careers in Hollywood. New York: Allworth, 2002. 33. Print.
- Berry, Torriano, and Venise T. Berry. The 50 Most Influential Black Films: a Celebration of African-American Talent, Determination, and Creativity. New York: Citadel/Kensington, 2001. 90-91. Print.
- Harriet, Margolis. "Sneaky Re-Views: Can Robert Townsend's Taste for Stereotypes Contribute Positively to Identity Politics?" Performing Gender and Comedy: Theories, Texts, and Contexts. By Shannon Eileen. Hengen. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Gordon and Breach, 1998. 199-214. Print.
- "Hollywood Shuffle". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- Emerson, Jim. "Hollywood Shuffle Movie Review (1987) | Roger Ebert". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- "'Hollywood Shuffle'". Washingtonpost.com. 1987-03-21. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- Hollywood Shuffle at the Internet Movie Database
- Hollywood Shuffle at Rotten Tomatoes
- Hollywood Shuffle at AllMovie