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Hollywood Shuffle

Robert Townsend

This satirical look at the ambivalent relationship between Hollywood power brokers and African-American performers marked the writing, producing, and directing debut of Robert Townsend. The filmmaker also stars as Bobby Taylor, a struggling actor looking for his big break despite his family’s and co-workers’ reservations about his chosen career path. While working a day job flipping burgers, Bobby heads out to insulting cattle calls where white casting agents pass judgement on whether he seems “black enough.” Meanwhile, he imagines himself playing Sam Spade, Rambo, and other movie heroes rather than the stereotypical roles actually available to him. When Bobby actually does win one such pimp-daddy part, however, he is forced to choose between accepting work that opens doors, but ultimately demeans him and returning to obscurity with his principles intact. Hollywood Shuffle’s enormous supporting cast includes a wealth of black actors, from then-unknowns such as Damon Wayans to veterans such as 227 star Helen Martin. Self-financed and filmed on scraps of hand-me-down celluloid, the film helped establish actor Townsend as a director of note and also kick-started the career of co-screenwriter and co-star Keenen Ivory Wayans, who would cast Townsend in his own directorial debut the following year.

“The film is fueled by equal parts hilarity and the righteous anger of a skilled actor and comedian whose job prospects seemed limited to playing drug-dealing thugs or servants. The skits… are the main attraction; they attack the long history (and present, and future) of Hollywood’s mistreatment of black actors” Cine-File

“Mr. Townsend has taken aim at the industry’s funny bone and struck a solid blow.” – NY Times

“Under the circumstances, Hollywood Shuffle is an artistic compromise but a logistical triumph, announcing the arrival of a new talent whose next movie should really be something.” – Ebert

“For a mere $100,000, Townsend and company have made a funny, poignant and technically proficient film — one that should thoroughly embarrass those studios that routinely offer up badly made, multimillion-dollar disasters.” – Washington Post

“Always enjoyable and Townsend is great.” – Empire


  • 2/9 | 6:00PM
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