Hollywood Shuffle: 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.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry: Long Live Chivalric Brotherhood
A pivotal early film from legendary Hong Kong director John Woo, this martial-arts classic explores the heroic ethos of youxia, Chinese warriors willing to sacrifice their lives to fight for justice and fulfill their promises.
India Song and Baxter, Vera Baxter: In the Thrall of Duras
One of the towering figures of postwar French literature, Marguerite Duras was also an innovative filmmaker whose rarefied cinematic style dared audiences to see less and listen more.
Romeo and Juliet: Star-Crossed Spectacle
Entrenched as an authoritative adaptation, this Oscar-winning hit is still admired, taught, and studied today for its spectacular re-creation of the past and its reinvention of the Shakespearean spoken word.
Bergman Island: Form and Feeling
In this shape-shifting exploration of creativity, couplehood, and artistic influence, Mia Hansen-Løve offers a glimpse at the existential heavy lift required by her deceptively simple autofictions.