This evening’s blog is brought to you by Soul-Glo…
Jheri curls were the topic of discussion this afternoon at work. Why, you may ask, are we discussing some null and void hair-do courtesy of the 80s and whose Soul-Glo flow was made famous in the couch scene in Coming to America? Well it’s because I was busily acting superior to my friend, who shall remain nameless, who readily admitted to having proudly rocked her jheri curl and then “…upgraded to a wave nouveau”, which for those who are uninitiated are just moderate jheri curls, meaning less juice aka activator. You may have noticed how earlier I said I was acting superior, well that’s because my mother was horrified by jheri curls and frankly anything processed (including relaxed aka straightened hair) and so when I, always trying to be on the forefront of any trend, asked her to get a jheri curl, she saved me from future shame by yelling, “No child of mine is going to have a damn jheri curl!” Fast forward back to today and this talk of jheri curls reminded me of the movie Hollywood Shuffle, a movie I feel should go down in the annals of film history, especially any section about black films.
Hollywood Shuffle was released back in 1987 when I was still elementary school-aged, I remember it coming on HBO and watching it with my older brother. Although if watching the film now I might think it a bit campy, Robert Townsend, writer*-director-and lead character of this movie addressed some issues that I’ve heard black actors popular today mention such as: diversity of roles within ‘black’ films and being picked for roles that aren’t written specifically as black characters. Townsend tackles these and other topics in his satirical film about a young man trying to make it in Hollywood as a serious actor while struggling to avoid being typecast as the pimp, the butler, or the gangster. Hilarity ensues as Townsend’s character struggles through audition after audition, trying to make his grandmother (the HA-larious Helen Martin) and little brother proud of him, along the way Townsend interlays some hilarious skits such as ‘Black Acting School’ (see clip below) and his detective character Ace who confronts a potential killer named Jheri Curl (see clip below, you may recognize a younger Keenan Ivory Wayans). In the end the ultimate question is what is it all worth? Is it worth it to ‘sell out’ to potentially be richer and be type caste or is it more dignified to have standards and not just accept any role for the almighty dollar?Clearly these are not new questions and persist today, but Hollywood Shuffle stands out for me because although quite hysterical Townsend was broaching a serious topic for real discussion and consideration.
I was young when this movie was released but it resonated for me not because I knew the drama black actors went through to get a non-stereotypical role but because it was so funny but the message was clear. Spike Lee, one of my favorite directors, illustrated some of the same ideas in his movie Bamboozled, but with a serious and darker edge that, layered with such heavy detail and historic reference, caused me to disconnect with rather than embrace the message. Hollywood Shuffle served the same purpose but in a shorter time with humor folded in to keep the ‘realness’ of the character’s struggle from suffocating the film. It didn’t hurt to watch Keenan’s ‘hard core’ character Jheri Curl punk out and start snitching under Ace’s interrogation and threat of dumped activator, which is what led me to remember this movie in the first place. Now that I think about it, this is a classic that needs to be on my shelf! I’m going to swing by Amazon and see what I can find, in the meantime enjoy these clips and if seeing them out of context doesn’t work for you, see if you can put this in your Netflix queue.
*Keenan Ivory Wayans co-wrote Hollywood Shuffle
Link to clip, Ace Gets Jheri Curl to Talk (2 mins): http://movieclips.com/Logsd-hollywood-shuffle-movie-ace-gets-jheri-curl-to-talk/
Link to clip, Black Acting School (6 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00ZNrw1swKs&list=UUNCZA8xwKoNPCWTcDPMYVPA&index=2&feature=plcp