Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Indie Memphis Does the Hollywood Shuffle with Actor/Director Robert Townsend

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 1:50 PM

click to enlarge Robert Townsend (right) and Jimmy Woodard (left) in Hollywood Shuffle
  • Robert Townsend (right) and Jimmy Woodard (left) in Hollywood Shuffle
Here's the secret about the racial disparity in Hollywood: It's not a secret, and it never has been. Even if many people didn't become aware of the problem of the dramatic underrepresentation of people of color among the decision makers in the American film business before the 2015 "Oscars So White" moment, the people struggling on the ground certainly were.

Witness Hollywood Shuffle. In 1986, Robert Townsend was by any definition a big talent. The comedian, actor, and fledgling director had been in the entertainment trenches for ten years when he produced and directed his own film on a shoestring budget. In a story reminiscent of Dolemite Is My Name, Townsend gathered his underpaid and struggling black friends in L.A., including future stars such as Keenen Ivory Wayans, to make a movie about the delusions of ambition and the reflexive prejudice black actors faced in the Hollywood of the 1980s.

Hollywood Shuffle is a strange beast. Townsend stars as Bobby Taylor, an actor from a working-class California family trying to juggle auditions and his crappy job at a hot dog stand. Those parts are fairly conventional '80s light comedy, until the film flies off the rails with parodies of Hollywood films done "the black way." In one skit, Townsend pops up with Jimmy Woodard in a Siskel and Ebert parody where the two film critics are forced to sneak into the theater.

With its expansive cast, irreverent attitude, and charmingly low-budget aesthetic, the film proved to be a huge hit upon release in 1987. To watch it today is to see someone in the past making arguments and observations that still resonate with current events. It's also still super funny.

Indie Memphis is partnering with the Criterion Channel to feature Hollywood Shuffle on their weekly Movie Club pandemic streaming series. Tonight, Tuesday, April 28th at 8 p.m., Indie Memphis artistic director Miriam Bale will host a Zoom-based discussion with Robert Townsend about the legacy of his work and the realities of being black in 2020 Hollywood. You can find out how to watch the film and sign up for the Q&A discussion on the Indie Memphis website.

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