Abar: Black Superman

Who you callin' Watusi Wobbler?
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
Frank Packard
Starring: 
J. Walter Smith, Tobar Mayo, Roxie Young, Gladys Lum
The Setup: 
Black doctor, who happens to also be a mad scientist, moving to a rich white neighborhood causes all sorts of ripple effects.
Discussion: 

Airports! I don't know why they are my absolute favorite place to write movie reviews. Maybe because I am captive here with nothing to do, and writing offers a chance to escape the people who cannot endure a quiet moment without needing to call someone on their cell, or the woman of dubious socialization singing quietly to herself, presumably about Jesus. The picture is completed by having a particularly silly movie to write about, a requirement Abar: Black Superman fills with ludicrousness to spare.

Okay! So we begin with Abar [pronounced Ay-Bar] making a rousing speech in the ghetto, filled with all sorts of general complaints that don't exactly form a fully reasoned, coherent argument, to the point where I suspect this speech may have been improvised. My favorite of his statements was "WE want all the good jobs!" followed, as all his statements are, by a shot of the assembled crowd going "Yeah!" Then we have the title, which the film itself lists only as "Abar."

Next we see affluent white housewife Mabel in the phone with her friend Blanche. She sees people moving in next door, and tells Blanche how exciting it will be to introduce them to the local Rotary and bring them to the country club. Then she sees African-American couple Dr. Kinkade and his wife, and assumes they must be the butler and maid. She and Blanche [who must live next door?] run to greet the couple, and when told that the couple are indeed the intended residents, says, right to their faces, "No! You're the butler and maid!" Needless to say, she does not exactly roll out the red carpet upon learning the truth, saying "Why bother to unpack? I'll burn your house down before I'll let you live there!" Arsonist Housewives: that's the reality show I want to see. Before you know it, there is a huge picket line outside, with signs advising the Kinkades to move back to the ghetto, and reaching, we are told, a near-riot. This occasions a meeting of the city council [or someone] who finally decides they'll play nice and offer the Kinkades twice what they paid to get out. Kinkade refuses, drawing a line in the sand, over the protestations of his concerned wife. And what about the children?

You know, when you're presented with a broad cross-section of humanity, such as the airport provides, and you take a moment to step back and consider our commonalities, rather than our differences, you might agree that it really is time for mankind to be wiped out.

Anyway, this fracas gains the attention of Abar, who brings his posse on motorcycles, waving a large flag of African colors, to the site. He goes inside and meets with Kinkade, telling him that he should move back to the ghetto and live among his people, instead of using his wealth to get out. Abar asks for money for his group, the BFU, which stands for Black Front of Unity. They part without reaching agreement.

Now, a great many blaxploitation movies have made a collective achievement by recording particular atrocities in interior design, but it must be said that Dr. Kinkade's house deserves special commendation all its own for its retina-searing environments. First you have the RED kitchen, with its matching RED coffee pot and RED pots and pans. Which is just off the RED bar with the RED couch. But that turns out to be a muted shade of red compared to the fire-engine RED bedroom, with the RED bed. Can you imagine being in an environment [that is not an art installation] in which every surface and object was the same shade of bright red? But let us not neglect the moss-GREEN stairs and foyer. You can catch a glimpse of it just to the far left of the below photo, although your eyes will have to get beyond Mrs, Kinkade's frankly insane dress. After the family finds their cat sliced open and hanging from the front door, Mr. and Mrs. Kinkade have a rather long ideological discussion about the politics of whether they should move away or not. But Mr. Kinkade says they cannot, not only because he will not be pushed out, etc., but becasue he is nearing a breakthrough in his work.

What is his work? Well I'm glad you asked. You see, Mr. Kinkade is somewhat of a mad scientist! He has a lab in his basement where he injects bunnies with whatever serum he's working on. He says in order for him to move to a human trial, he would have to have a specimen in superb physical health. I wonder if you can see where this is going?

Kinkade is one morning being assaulted on his porch by two white racists, when who should ride up--hanging off the side of a GARBAGE TRUCK--but Abar. Kinkade tells Abar maybe he'll hire him as a bodyguard, and make a donation to the BFU, but Abar insists that Kinkade come to his hood for them to discuss it further. In the mean time, Kinkade's two kids are playing on the stairs when the young girl sasses her brother somehow, and he responds: "Aw shut up, you watusi wobbler." If you have seen this movie and do not remember that line I would not be at all surprised, as I am more than willing to believe that I hallucinated it.

So Kinkade goes to the black neighborhood, where Abar is, of course, giving a rousing speech, his listeners once more shouting "Yeah!" after everything he says. He then starts excoriating Kinkade right in front of everyone, accusing him of making his money off the poor blacks in the ghetto, then using that money to get out. Um okay, I think there may be some faulty logic there. The poor blacks in the ghetto are somehow funding Kinkade's scientific research? And how exactly did he get rich off the poor blacks--aren't they, you know, POOR? I think the basic message is that all blacks are WRONGED, end of story, and anyone who has money doesn't deserve it, and it's unfair. We'll leave to a separate discussion whether this simplicity of message actually helps any community. Abar and Kinkade then go for a ride through the ghetto, where we see much evidence of poverty. While this is happening they have a continued ideological discussion of Abar's ideas, which Kinkade now and many times throughout the film agrees contains "some truth."

I should mention somewhere in here that, even for blaxploitation, the acting here is particularly bad.

Anyway, Kinkade essentially hires Abar to stay at his house as somewhat of a watchdog, and we have an instance of him protecting the house against intruders. After this occurs what can only be described as the "frisbee fracas," involving Mabel from next door, who gets hit in the head with the Kinkade kids' frisbee, then inexplicably collapses. Later Kinkade's brother comes over for a chat for which Abar joins for a while and--oh God, he's going on about the ghetto again. Every possible topic leads this guy to bring conversation back to the ghetto. He's really kind of human watchdog who should be seen and not heard. By the way, during this time, Kinkade's wife shows her sister-in-law the new house, giving us further coverage of its visual atrocities.

Anyway, seeing he's getting nowhere with the Kinkade's, Abar repairs upstairs to watch TV with the kids. He mentions black cowboy Deadwood Dick, and then the kids falls asleep and--SUDDEN, ENTIRELY UNFORESEEN DREAM SEQUENCE!! We are in the old West, and evil whites are attacking the house of innocent blacks, played by the Kinkades, until they are saved by Abar as Deadeye Dick. It's part of this film's attempt at showing how Abar supposedly becomes somewhat of a mythic hero in his community, but... frankly I hope for a bit more surrealism from my dream sequences. Would it be too much to ask for a flaming crawling hand made of cheese or something? A talking snake in a fur coat? Throw us a bone here.

Then a black politician comes by and he and Kinkade have much ideological discussion about the best way to help the black peoples, etc. Then Kinkade is upstairs with his kids when his daughter, who is about eight, by the way, says "Daddy, what is it to be black?" which I'm sure is the kind of thing young kids say all the time. This of course precipitates more ideological discussion and positive messaging, which would be more tolerable if it was insightful in any way. As it is, it doesn't reach far above the level of "There are two sides to every story" or, as Kinkade keeps saying, there is "some truth" to views that oppose his own.

SPOILERS > > >
Then the boy catches some evil white man setting a bomb behind their house, and the guy runs around to his car parked out front. The boy is there, standing in the street, when the car comes and RUNS HIM DOWN! I have to say that was a shocker. Especially when we find out that he's not just passed out, not just in a coma, but DEAD. This causes the greiving mother to shout "Run over! Dead! Run over! Dead! Run over! Dead!" about fifteen times, while the neighbors tsk-tsk and walk away, as though getting run over at ten years old is just waht you can expect if you're black and move into a white neighborhood.

Then Kinkade and his wife have a little contest to see who can offer the most stilted delivery as she reminds him that he wanted to stay there and now his son is dead, before walking out. I'm sure their pain is unendurable--which may be why they're talking with all the compassion of robots--but you probably won't be able to keep from asking yourself--"Ummm, isn't there a TIME BOMB outside?" Maybe it's set to explode in three weeks?

Then, at over an hour in, Kinkade finally reveals his plot to Abar and--BUNNIES! Look, he's got bunnies! I have to say--can we divert for a moment? My vet tells me that my bunny is fat, which I wouldn't know because, like, how do I know how fat a bunny is supposed to be? But I see now that she's a real porker, because the bunnies in this movie are some SKINNY BITCHES. Although perhaps I shouldn't hold her to the unattainable bunny body ideals presented in the media, right? Anyway, it's a bit funny because they have this shot of this bunny staring right at the camera, then Kinkade points a gun right at it and fires! Then: the same shot of the bunny staring right at the camera! Then Abar takes the gun, points it right at the bunny, and fires! Then: the same shot of the bunny! I think we're supposed to think that the bunny is unaffected by the point-blank bullet, although you might have thought it would react a little bit to the sound of a gun going off two inches away. Anyway, Abar isn't going to take the serum, but someone shoots at him on the way out of Kinkade's house, and he runs back and gulps it down--after more pointless TALK, of course.

Meanwhile you're like "There was... a BOMB? Does anyone remember the BOMB?" Turns out it's going to take Abar about three hours to turn into Black Superman, so he gets on his motorcycle and starts cruising the streets. Then Kinkade stars going door-to-door looking for him, wanting to shoot him before he becomes indestructible! Because he's had a change of mind and realizes his plan is WRONG! For some reason I didn't catch. There's a fracas with some racist cops who pull a black guy over for drinking while driving [so unjust!] and end up wantonly SHOOTING HIM! I'm not even going to go into it, except to note how all whites are driven only to hate, Hate, HATE, and Abar goes and repairs to that artwork of conical towers made out of junk in L.A., where he climbs halfway up and seems to enter some sort of trance. One of the only notable things about this movie is how SHOCKINGLY undeveloped the area around this monument was then!

So the cops arrive and, being psychotic racists as all whites are in this movie, start opening fire on Abar pretty quick. He just stares coolly into the distance, taking no notice of the gunfire--just like the bunny! Maybe it really DOES work that way. Then one of the cops gets up and quits, saying "I'm going home to my wife. Make love not war!"

All this time, it would seem that Abar has entered into a deep trance. And at this point we ENTER HIS MIND. There, he sees himself in a spiffy new suit, passing a bunch of winos passed out on the street. POOF-he changes their wine to milk! Then an upstanding middle-aged woman gets her purse snatched, causing her to shout "My purse! My purse! He's taken my purse! My purse! My purse! He's taken my purse! My purse! My purse! He's taken my purse!" I guess improvisation really is a skill. Abar uses his mind power to make the offending snatcher run faster and faster, until he runs back, returns the purse and collapses. Then he sees some Crips painting graffitti on a wall--and makes then whitewash it clean again [although I think they should have waited for it to dry]. Then he makes a prostitute beat up her pimp. And maybe a few more scenes of him cleaning up the ghetto with his mind power. And around this time you're like--oh, so I guess he's not going to get a suit with a cape and fly around. Okay, I can live with that, but this is all his fantasy? This is all happening in his mind? I guess I was expecting my black supermen to use their new powers to ACTUALLY clean up the ghetto, not just, like, THINK about it. But that shows my limitations--I was expecting a blaxploitation superhero movie and this is really an avant-garde exploration into succeeding realms of racial consciousness.

So Abar goes back to Kinkade's, still in the new suit. So did this shit really happen? WHAT is happening? And by the way--ISN'T THERE A BOMB OUTSIDE? He tells Kinkade that he is now a spiritual being, and then--why, there's a NEW guy placing a NEW bomb outside! The guy drives off, but Abar uses his superpowers to teleport the bomb into the guys' car, and he explodes. Then he fills all the white neighbors' houses with rats, snakes, and any manner of vermin. And then--and really, you HAVE to face that this film IS really avant-garde--the whites from the neighborhood gather outside, whereupon they are BLOWN AS A MASS by a huge wind. I think that's the wind of change, and we have a long shot as they wander down the street as a mass, against the powerful wind. WOAH. That might indeed be the wind of change, right there.

THEN--as a final kicker that will make you question everything you THOUGHT you knew, all the way back to the sun going around the Earth--the evil neighbor from next door, Mabel, the women who started this whole mess, apologizes for the way she treated them, and reveals it is all because SHE IS A PALE-SKINNED BLACK WHO HAS BEEN PASSING FOR WHITE ALL ALONG. Chew on THAT, and all its shocking implications, if you please. Then we have the credits, during which we hear recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches.
< < < SPOILERS END

Wow. Some movie. One might be stunned at its brazen subverting of expected narrative conventions and left reeling by its dizzying whirl through several sucessive states of consciousness, if one didn't have the strong suspicion that it's really all just total and utter ineptitude. It would all go down smoother if it were a little bit fun, but it's all very slow and super self-serious and in fact is a bit of a drag. You keep waiting for the fun to begin, and you think it'll all start popping when Abar turns into Black Superman, but when he finally does, he just sits still and daydreams? You would probably feel a little gypped if the journey to that point weren't just so darn bizarre to keep you interested.

Other than that, it hardly need be said that as a serious statement on racial relations in L.A., it leaves a great deal to be desired. It's all up in your face with MESSAGES throughout, but the general ineptitude of every aspect, especially the writing, but also the direction, the editing and finally the dumbfoundingly atrocious acting, all those messages are lost and worse, made ludicrous. Also, it's not converting anyone's racism by showing every single white as insanely, murderously racist.

Anyway, a very bizarre little movie, much stranger than I ever expected when I picked it up--but still I can't recommend anyone see it. Maybe if you're writing a dissertation on blaxploitation films, other than that, this review should be the closest you get.

Should you watch it: 

If you must see every single blaxploitation film. Otherwise, skip it.