Mini-Review: Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Starring Robert Townsend, Anne-Marie Johnson, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin, Starletta DuPois, David McKnight, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Lou B. Washington, Brad Sanders, John Witherspoon, Eugene Robert Glazer, Lisa Mende, Dom Irrera

Directed by Robert Townsend

Expectations: Moderate, I know next to nothing about it.


Hollywood Shuffle may be nearly twenty-five years old, but its themes and points remain valid in today’s Hollywood climate, something both distressing and impressive at the same time. Robert Townsend crafts the well-told tale of Bobby Taylor, an aspiring actor stuck in a dead-end job at the Winky Dinky Dog, and the struggles he faces while trying to land his first big acting role. The struggle is the emotional heart of Hollywood Shuffle and will resonate well with anyone who’s ever had big dreams to do something spectacular.

This heart is counterpointed with biting, witty criticism of the entertainment industry in the form of Bobby’s daydreams, beautifully played out on-screen for everyone to enjoy. These sequences are also the film’s shining, hilarious moments and arrived to me completely unexpected. I have a strong love for this type of dreamy satire, so when the first dream began for the Black Acting School, I knew I was in for a real treat. The film also has quality moments of drama, with one monologue from the barber nearly bringing me to tears.

Hollywood Shuffle‘s behind-the-scenes story is just as interesting as the filmed one too. Made for a budget of $100,000, mostly funded with credit cards by Robert Townshend himself, the film is a pure labor of love and it’s evident right from the first frame. The blood, sweat and tears that went into the project are palpable and anyone who’s ever thought about the state of black actors in Hollywood will find a lot to ponder and enjoy in Hollywood Shuffle.

I’m sad to say that the themes of Hollywood Shuffle aren’t stuck in the 80s time frame. Sure things have gotten better, but we still don’t have many black actors fronting huge Hollywood productions. I’m still waiting for a major studio to put a black actor into a superhero role, something I’ve been dying to see for years now. Fuck the die-hard fanboys, an African-American Spider-Man or Thor would be fucking awesome. Or Batman? Or any superhero really. To say that they were created white and should remain that way forever is narrow-minded thinking. They were created white in a time when everything was created white and because so many people have this rose-colored nostalgia for the past, we continue to remain shackled to these bullshit ideals. C’mon, Hollywood! Break the mold and take a chance. Give actors from all ethnicities real shots at some high-quality, meaty roles! Diversity is your friend.

I’ve gotta give it up to Top 10 Films and their list of the Top 10 Low Budget Films of All Time for making me aware of this movie. Check out the list, it’s a good one.

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