Hollywood Shuffle: Against Type

<em>Hollywood Shuffle:</em> Against Type

Laying bare the typecasting of Black actors in the 1980s, Robert Townsend’s crackling directorial debut, Hollywood Shuffle (1987), is a satire that has lost none of its bite. The film’s protagonist, Bobby Taylor (Townsend), a young aspiring actor living in Los Angeles, is on the cusp of what he thinks might be his big break: the lead role in a grotesquely stereotypical blaxploitation knockoff called Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge. When he gets a callback for the part, his agent makes clear that he can’t bring too much of himself to the table, informing Bobby that the filmmakers are looking for an “Eddie Murphy type.” The guideline quite literally haunts Bobby’s dreams: in one of the film’s many fantasy sequences, he imagines attending the audition alongside a roomful of other Black actors who apparently all got the same memo. There they are, dressed as the comedian appears on the cover of his cheesy number-two single from 1985, “Party All the Time”: black leather jackets, gold necklaces, thick mustaches (most of which are very obviously painted on). The camera tracks sideways along the wall of actors, as each does his best Murphy impression.

But what is an “Eddie Murphy type,” exactly? Back in 1987—when Murphy starred in that year’s box-office champ, Beverly Hills Cop II, as well as the stand-up feature Eddie Murphy: Raw—it was one of very few categories that Hollywood envisioned a Black male performer falling into: fast-talking, potty-mouthed, charismatic, lithe, but above all (and this is key) Eddie Murphy. As in, if you, dear Black performer, weren’t the man himself, good luck trying to land a part that wasn’t a jive-talking pimp, a jive-talking gang member, or a jive-talking servant.

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