Hollywood Shuffle: Black Acting School

In the movie Hollywood Shuffle (Townsend, 1987), there is a section of the movie when the main character is trying to audition for a stereotypical black part and another actor tells him to not sell out. That makes him think of this outrageous skit about having a black acting school that teaches people how to act black. This clip starts off with different black actors coming out as slaves escaping, then the host comes out as a butler and says “I had to learn to play these slave parts, and now you can too with Hollywood’s first black acting school.” He then goes into describing the different stereotypes of black people that the black acting school teaches.  In a way the clip acts as if, “stereotypes are basic building block of the tradition and identifying these specific figures is crucial to understanding the art form” (Austen, 2012, p. 7). It’s an unpleasant scene, but it’s a really good example of what black actors have to constantly put up with in order to get a job in Hollywood.

“Black minstrelsy involves not only stereotypes and caricatures, but comic traditions, linguistics, low humor, verbal dexterity improvisation and numerous other elements” (Austen, 2012, p. 7). This scene begins the stereotypes by showing two men trying to learn how to talk “black” from a white man. As they try to ‘sound’ black, the white guy cuts in telling them that they are doing it wrong and that this is how they should sound like. He has them saying stuff like “you jive turkey motherfucker.” The craziest part is not just having to speak that way, but also having a white man tell the black men how to speak black. The whites are not part of that culture, yet they seem to confess their knowledge about the false representation of being black. Another example of a white man showing the black men how to be black in the clip is, when he tries to show them how to walk. This idea of teaching someone how to “walk black,” is odd because there is no specific way a black man should be walking. The way the video is showing the men how to walk, is by tilting forward a little bit and swinging their arms back and forth to the point where it looks like they are dancing; similar to the cakewalk.“The cakewalk was a dance developed as a parody of white balls, and while contemporary eyes may see it as ridiculous and demeaning, it not only functioned as a signifying critique, but became a sensation because of it’s groundbreaking demonstration of the grace and creativity that are foundations of African American dance” (Austen, 2012, p. 10-11). This started as a type of dance that African Americans would do in the past, but to me the way the video portrays the walk is like a modern day, less exaggerated version of the cakewalk. This is used to mock the way they walk, even though many African Americans don’t actually walk like that.

Besides teaching people how to walk and talk black, the black acting school goes into teaching them how to act like a criminal. Towards the end of the clip, the host brings out a graduating student of the school to tell the audience how successful he has been after the school. The guy says that he has acted as crooks, gang leaders, dope dealers and rapists. These are all horrible characters to play, but the host and the actor both seem very excited that he was able to land those roles. It’s sad that instead of, “serv­ing as an urban backdrop of a variety of urban lifestyles,” film and television continues to share the same one-dimensional stereotypes of blacks to the world (Yuen, 2010. p. 241). These stereotypes are still shown throughout media, even though many African Americans have tried to make commentary on how these are not true. The movie Hollywood Shuffle, is a satirical comedy about stereotypical ethnic roles and this clip itself is a paradox showing how horrible and false these representations are. The whole aspect of the video is contradicting the idea of teaching stereotypical roles the way the black acting school is displaying. Even though this movie was made in the 1980’s it shows stereotypes that are still shown in today’s movies. Films and television shows should really aim to show a better and positive side of African Americans instead of all the negative representations they are accustomed to provide the viewers.

Work Cited:

Austen, Jake and Yuval Taylor. “Racial Pixies: How Dave Chappelle Got Bamboozled by the Black Minstrel Tradition” in The Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop. W.W. Norton, 2012.

Townsend, Robert.  (Producer) & (Director). (March 20, 1987). Hollywood Shuffle [Motion picture]. United States: The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Link to Hollywood Shuffle clip used: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ASZ6K9cPNk

Yuen, Nancy Wang. “Playing ‘Ghetto’: Embodiments of South Central in Popular Culture,” in Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. Editors Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramon. New York: NYU Press, 2010.

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