*Robert Townsend made his directorial debut with “Hollywood Shuffle” in 1987 and the comedy satire about Black stereotypes in movies instantly became a classic.
Townsend and comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans co-wrote “Hollywood Shuffle,” which centers on an aspiring actor (played by Townsend) who only lands auditions for stereotypical roles. Townsend explains in his audio commentary on the Criterion Blu-ray that one particular scene in the movie shows a white casting director instructing him on how to act Black, and this actually happened to Townsend early in his career.
“I don’t know if it was the directors’ lack of experience or it was what they had seen on television,” Townsend said of his real-life auditions. “Then they go, ‘Yeah, a Black dude moves like this.’ Then I was like, ‘I’m a Black dude and we don’t move like that,” Townsend said, noting that actors of all backgrounds later told him that they related to the scene.
“There were different actors that would see me and go, ‘Hey, I’m Italian, I gotta go through this. I’m Asian, there’s a stereotype for me,’” Townsend said. “It spoke to a lot of artists period, not just Black artists.”
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Townsend told Slate that “Hollywood Shuffle” was born out of frustration and he received zero studio funding for the movie.
“I didn’t even know to pitch it to a studio,” he said. “I was like, “I got some money saved, 60 grand in the bank—I’ll figure out how to make a movie.” Everybody was like, “You don’t have a chance in hell.” I called Norman Jewison, I called Ron Schwary [A Soldier’s Story producer], and Jerry Molen, who’s Steven Spielberg’s producer now. And I said, “I’m going to make a movie. I need the leftover film. Would you give it to me?” And they gave me the short ends from Soldier’s Story.
I knew I couldn’t afford permits so we shot all our outdoor stuff early Sunday mornings. The world is asleep. People are going to church, or they party too hard. The police are not out. So I did the shot list and said, “OK, meet at my house at 5 o’clock. Don’t park your cars in front of my house. Park three blocks away from my house so my neighbors don’t know what’s going on.”
When it comes to a “Hollywood Shuffle” sequel, Townsend told The Daily Beast, “People have approached me and said, “There’s still some stuff there. We could do a sequel.” I don’t know. I have to find the way because it’s a different Hollywood now where we have a lot of Black creators in front and behind, so it’s a different time. The closest thing I’ve seen to what I would have done if I was going to do a Hollywood Shuffle Part 2 is Donald Glover doing Atlanta and Mr. Chocolate. I thought that was really brilliant. And Donald Glover is a forward-thinker. And that was very smart and satirical in a beautiful way.”
“Hollywood Shuffle” had a reported budget of $100k and earned $5.2 million at the domestic box office.
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