In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 13 – Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Robert Townsend, who’d already spent his share of years toiling in Hollywood as a supporting actor in such projects as “Streets of Fire,” “A Soldier’s Story,” and “American Flyers,” stepped up as his own leading man in his first feature project as director/co-writer/co-producer/actor in the hilarious 1987 feature, “Hollywood Shuffle.” Co-written by future “In Living Color” creator (and fellow co-star) Keenan Ivory Wayans and based on he and Townsend’s own experiences, “Shuffle is an extremely funny series of fantastical daydream vignettes and the real-life trials suffered by Townsend’s Bobby Taylor, an aspiring actor and part-time hot dog stand employee trying to overcome Tinseltown’s stereotypes and get ahead in the business.
In his day job, Bobby Taylor (Townsend) works at Winky Dinky Dog, where he’s constantly belittled by his co-workers Donald and Tiny (Wayans and Lou D. Washington). His real passion, though, is acting, and he’s constantly making the rounds at casting auditions, where unfortunately most roles are stereotypes (gang members, pimps, ridiculous action heroes), or calls for his best Eddie Murphy impressions.
In between the real life moments, Taylor dreams and daydreams about his predicaments, which provides for some highly memorable, funny movie sketches. In one (“Black Acting School”), white coaches instruct their students on how to be more “black.” In another, a take off on the ’80s movie review show “At the Movies” called “Sneaking Into the Movies,” Townsend as a character named Speed, along with a street hoodlum buddy, provide their critical takes on such ridiculous films as “Amadeus Meets Salieri,” “Dirty Larry,” “Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Attack of the Street Pimps.”
The social commentary is pointed and spot-on, and Townsend makes several valid points about the need for himself and others to stand up for better roles for African Americans at the cinema. It’s also just an extremely entertaining and funny showcase for Townsend, Ivory Wayans and other long-time Hollywood performers such as Anne-Marie Johnson and John Witherspoon (well-known to audiences as Ice Cube’s dad in the “Friday” movie series).
“Hollywood Shuffle” is a comedy that uses its humorous situations and fantasy sequences to highlight real issues of representation at the movies, and in the movie business. It was well-received upon release, although Townsend was also knocked some for his own exaggerated and stereotypical depictions – especially regarding sexual orientation and gender.
The film’s aged in many ways like so many others from the ‘80s, but still retains a lot of its sense of humor about itself, and the absurd world in which it exists.
Where to Watch
Comedy / 1987 / R
Aspiring actor and hot-dog stand employee Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) catches the ire of his grandmother (Helen Martin) for auditioning for a role in the regrettably titled exploitation film "Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge." When Tinseltown Studios casts Taylor in the title role, he has a series of conflicted dreams satirizing African-American stereotypes in Hollywood, and must reconcile his career goals with his desire to remain a positive role model for his little brother (Craigus R. Johnson).
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