Afro Promo

Survey says...
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Jenni Olson
Starring: 
A virtual cavalcade of stars
The Setup: 
A collection of movie trailers for films about or starring African-Americans, supposed to help us reflect on changing attitudes as represented through movies.
Discussion: 

I first read about this collection of movie trailers in The Onion, where it was said to be an interesting way to look at changing attitudes [and rigidly immutable attitudes] toward African-Americans through the way they are portrayed in films. It’s a pretty good idea, but once you sit through all of this you wonder if it was really that great an idea.

I found the first trailers, for films such as Saint Louis Blues from 1958, to be a bit more interesting than the later ones. In these trailers the producers are obviously trying to convince a reluctant audience that there is still a reason to see the movie even though there’s a black person in it. For Edge of the City, in which John Cassavetes befriends a black man, they have a white woman playing a script girl saying that for her movies are just a job, but this one is different. “It’s so offbeat and real,” she says, and “Looks at reality with an unflinching eye.” We are later treated to a trailer for a film that, we are told, “can enrich your life.” When we later hear that one film features “a refreshing portrayal by Sydney Poitier,” we have to wonder exactly what about it makes it so “refreshing.” Is that he’s not acting the way most people perceive blacks?

We soon get into the 70s, where we get a trailer for Soul to Soul, in which American R&B artists go to Africa to play for the Africans, and apparently the Africans play their music for the R&B musicians… which seems like an odd idea, but I think I’d have to see the movie to comment further. We have a bunch of tantalizing but out-of-print blaxploitation movies such as Cool Breeze, starring a FINE-looking Thalamus Rasulala, and a FINE-looking Fred Williamson in Boss N-------. You KNOW we’re never going to be able to see that movie with a title like that, even though Fred looks even HOTTER than usual [if such a thing can be imagined] and wears a black cowboy heart and form-fitting leather outfit. Other unavailable potential gems are Sparkle, starring Irene Cara [of Fame fame] and Norman, Is That You? In which Red Foxx’s son has apparently gone gay, and has a white lover who says “FAAAAAAbulous” in a high-pitched voice no less than THREE times in one trailer! I NEED to see that shit. But alas, no. [*Except now I have an out-of-print VHS copy on the way!]

What’s interesting is the number of films in which the African-Americans are musicians or comedians [with cops running a distant third], as though the justifications for why a white person would want to watch this can no longer be uttered, but the makers of these films still believed that no one wants to see a black person unless they’re a dancing, singin’, or cuttin’ up.

Overall, it’s interesting, but I’m not sure it really comes to all that much, or any more revelation that you’ve just gotten from reading this review [or that I got from the one-paragraph Onion review]. However, I see that the filmmaker, a lesbian artist and activist, has a previous compilation called Homo Promo that is now on my list.

Also on the disc are two short art films. They are the sort of thing that you see playing in a darkened alcove in a museum, go in and watch for 30 seconds, shrug and say “huh,” and walk out again. The first one is an inexcusable 15 minutes. There are also two trailers for other strange little films that are now apparently available on DVD, and a note about the releasing company, which, though their repertoire, apparently, “opens up spaces both marvelous and dangerous,” which is the sort of language that takes points off the overall score of your DVD, if you ask me. Is there some special unit of art school in which they learn to use ludicrously overinflated and self-important language? Why can’t it just be interesting stuff? Why does it have to be “dangerous?” I’m sorry, if Dave Chapelle is on the air and one of the most popular programs on TV, is Afro Promo really “dangerous?” Or we need to tell people so we’re EXTRA sure they know that this is much more than just a collection of trailers? I know a lot of people respond to that kind of language, and apparently believe it… for me, it darkens my entire perception of the disc and makes me hesitant to check out anything more from that company.

Should you watch it: 

It doesn't hurt, but it's the kind of thing that makes you rue paying the meager rental fee.