Robert Townsend, the Hollywood Shuffle Players. Directed by Robert Townsend. 1987. R. (Virgin cassette, stereo, 82 min., $79.95)
You can call this one the "Putney Swope" of the '80s. It's an independently made movie (filmed on a shoestring budget) that had surprising success at the box office last year. It also made a hot star out of Townsend, who had been previously making a name as a bit player and stand-up comedian.
"Hollywood Shuffle" has a lot of heart and, yes, soul, as it recounts the trials and tribulations of blacks trying to make it in Hollywood. The only roles most can get are as pimps, street hoods, slaves and other demeaning stereotypes. Townsend wants to become a black Lear, but he has to try out instead for shuffling Jimmy, a street punk.
Throughout his audition ordeals, Townsend fantasizes about roles he'd really like to play, and his imagination takes flight, parodying his current predicament. Everyone is a target, including white Hollywood execs, groveling black actors, Eddie Murphy, even film reviewers Siskel and Ebert.
"Hollywood Shuffle" may be thought-provoking, yet it doesn't take itself too seriously. Since Townsend probably couldn't afford to rent a VistaVision camera, the movie fits nicely on the home screen, and the sound is crisp and clear.
VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE/ THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP