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.
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|
|March 20, 1987|
Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) is a young, middle class black man 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 as he prepares 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" and expresses disapproval. His mother (Starletta DuPois) is more supportive, and Bobby assures her that if he lands the part, their lives will change for the better.
After the audition, Bobby talks with his boss Mr. Jones, who questions Bobby's dedication to his job at Jones's restaurant, Winky Dinky Dog, because Bobby frequently makes excuses to miss 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 also says that acting is not about art, it's about making money -- "the sequel", merchandising, etc.
Bobby gets a call from his agent and learns that 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, using terms including "Murphy-esque" and "Murphonic". 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 Winky Dinky Dog 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. Bobby quits his job. Later that night, he visits his uncle Ray, a singer who gave up on his chance at stardom in order to work at a "real" job to provide for his family. Bobby expresses doubts about continuing to pursue acting, but Ray encourages Bobby to follow his dreams. During his callback, the director, writer, and casting director are thrilled at Bobby's performance, calling it "very black", and he wins the lead role. Bobby's attacks of conscience begin to 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 when his grandmother comes home and the three watch a film noir. Bobby has another fantasy 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. Bobby returns to the studio the next day to start filming Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge with his family in attendance. His guilt about playing such a stereotypical character finally overwhelms him, and Bobby quits in the middle of the shoot. 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's about to begin. In an echo of his grandmother's previous admonition that there's always honest work at the post office, Hollywood Shuffle ends with Bobby filming a TV commercial for the US Postal Service.
- 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. Among the characters Townsend appears as in his daydreaming vignettes are Jasper, the butler in "Black Acting School"; Speed, the film critic in "Sneaking into the Movies"; Sam Ace, the private investigator in Death of a Breakdancer; and Rambro, the black Rambo-like war hero in Bobby's dream about winning an Oscar.
- Anne-Marie Johnson as Lydia, Bobby's girlfriend who remains supportive even as he begins to question his career choice. She also appears in the "Black Acting School" segment as runaway slave Willie Mae and as a hooker in the "Sneaking into the Movies" clip of Attack of the Street Pimps.
- 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 of Bobby's willingness to depict degrading black stereotypes, though usually when he's not within hearing range. She tells Bobby's mother she'd much rather he pursue a job at the post office, because it's honest work. She's on the set when Bobby quits Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge, and obviously approves.
- 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, he now works at a barbershop. Bobby comes to Ray with his doubts about his acting career. 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 Death of a Breakdancer.
- Lou D. Washington as Tiny, another one of Bobby's co-workers who discourages him from acting.
- Brad Sanders as B. B. Sanders/Batty Boy, the wealthy and cynical 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, the 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 Casting Director, the casting director of Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge who constantly demands "more black" from the actors.
- Dom Irrera as Writer, the writer of Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge who admits in a rap song at the end of the film that everything he knows about African Americans he learned from movies and television.
- The Hollywood Shuffle Players as various cast members. As Bobby dreams and daydreams, several actors appear in the vignettes multiple times, including Conni Marie Brazelton, Sena Ayn Black, Jesse Aragon, Verda Bridges, Grand L. Bush, and Damon Wayans.
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."
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.
- "Hollywood Shuffle". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
- Emerson, Jim (1987-03-27). "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.
- 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.
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