Hollywood Pimpin’

[18 August 2005]

By Mark H. Harris

I found Hustle and Flow very educational; I learned how to “whup that trick”, for example. But the history of cinematic pimping goes beyond what’s on screen. The real pimping happens behind the scenes. I’m talking about Hollywood pimping: the whoring out of black culture for celluloid profit. 8 Mile. Honey. Breakin’. Save the Last Dance. Glitter. Flashdance. These films form a niche, an un-official sub-genre I like to call “D.A.N.K.” (Dramatic Appropriation of Negro Kulture). Big Daddy Kane was wrong; pimpin’ is easy. Here’s how to do it in 10 simple steps.

Step 1: The Lead
First, you want a white star—or some close approximation thereof.

Sample screenplay:

Melanie enters. Her brunette locks trail behind her like a chocolate curtain dipped in poop. She is tan. Suspiciously tan. Is she Italian? Greek? Native American? Brazilian? Tongan? Maybe she’s just dirty. What does it matter? We’re all one people… (Note to casting: She’s not black.)

Step 2: The Set-Up
Imbue said white star with a non-fleeting passion for a traditionally black art form—rapping, breakdancing, diabetes, whatever.

Sample screenplay:

Melanie flips the light switch, revealing a dance studio in her parents’ basement. She runs her finger along the stretching bar and groans at the amount of dust. Obviously, it’s Lupita’s day off. To top it off, there’s only generic water in the mini fridge. Her pent-up rage erupts in a leaping, twirling, killer hip-hop dance routine expressing her middle-class ire.

SFX: Hip-hop music; anyone named “Lil’”.

Step 3: The Heavy ‘Rents
Give the lead an overbearing, borderline abusive parent or two who cramps her style with heavy-fisted demands that she get a real job—like at her father’s bottling plant (Insert product placement here.). Her resistance makes her a rebel against the stodgy whiteness of The Man (and The Woman, for two-parent households).

Sample screenplay:

Bob and Marcia storm in. Bob angrily clicks off the boom box’s final strains of “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.

MARCIA
I thought we told you not to do that…stuff anymore!

MELANIE
Lay off, Mom; this is coming from my heart!

BOB
Dammit, you may as well just come work for me at the Coca-Cola factory! He takes a swig of a cool, refreshing Coke.

BOB (cont’d)
All those years of ballet classes for nothing!

MELANIE
And what about all those years of anger management? You still beat Mom, don’t you?

MARCIA
Ooh, burn...

BOB
Shut the hell up, Marcia! Step 4: The Support System
Give the lead a hip black friend who is utterly devoted to the lead, even when the lead doubts herself. The friend must be boisterous, supportive, and hopelessly dark-skinned. Sample screenplay:

SHANANONDRA
Ooh girl, you so talented! I wish I was like you!

MELANIE
(Chuckling) Oh Shananondra, you’re so sweet. And simple. Step 5: Insert Hip Black Dialogue
Have your lead speak with a twinge of soul; drop the “g” from the end of every gerund, and insert apostrophes wherever possible. A casual viewing of Honey culled such hip lingo as “flavor” and “kick it” and lines like “You got skills,” “Let’s see you bust,” and “How you gonna play me like that?” You’ll find that mixing and matching such terminology yields an endless supply of cool! This, combined with the lead’s “white poverty” (middle class), renders her “down”. Sample screenplay:

MELANIE
We flavor poppin’ of da hook!

SHANANONDRA
True dat and a bag of chips, my nizzle! ‘Sup ‘sup! Tupac!

MELANIE
Bling bling, I let the dogs out! Who dat is? Dat’s jus’ my baby daddy!

SHANANONDRA
’ ’ ’ ’ ’ ! Step 6: The Love Triangle
The lead should have to choose between a black homeboy (i.e., keepin’ it real) and a white (possibly Eurotrash) corporate stooge (i.e., sellin’ out). Involve gunplay if necessary. Sample screenplay: Mandingo enters just as Dieter reaches to grab the foie gras he dropped down Melanie’s top.

MANDINGO
What da…?

MELANIE
Mandingo! This isn’t what it looks like—

DIETER
Oops, missed a spot! Dieter grabs a Triscuit and reaches for Melanie’s bossom. Mandingo pulls a gat and points it at Dieter, cocked sideways, gangsta-style.

MANDINGO
Drop dat cracker, cracker! Step 7: The Struggle
Along the way, the lead will come up short in her initial efforts to make it big. Maybe she’s so scared in her first competition that she can’t perform and runs away, sobbing. Consider inspiring her by killing and/or raping one of her friends. Or that great aunt who’s a second mother to her; she’s lived a full life. Sample screenplay: Melanie’s eyes glaze over as she peers into the smoky crowd. The spotlight is on her, but she can’t move. What if she falls? Or forgets her moves? What if one of her friends gets raped and/or killed while she’s busy dancing? Agitated, the crowd begins to boo and throw batteries.

MELANIE
Ouch! (Points at the crowd) 8-volts have pointy edges, people! Melanie’s cell phone rings. SFX: Cellular rendition of Ice Cube’s “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck With”.

MELANIE (cont’d)
Hello? ... What? ... No, not my Nanna! Melanie runs out of the club, all blubbering and snotty. Step 8: The Epiphany
The struggling lead realizes she must gain inspiration from the streets, giving her the confidence to jack their style and gloss it over for mass consumption. If there’s time along the way, she can save a black street urchin from a life of illiterate-ness and downtrodden-ty. Sample screenplay: Melanie strolls through an alley, dejected that the contest went so poorly. She happens upon a group of black kids breakdancing on a flattened cardboard box. One child in particular draws her eye. He’s young—about 18 months—and the way he spins on his diapered tushy breaks her heart. And inspires her to steal that move. But mostly, it breaks her heart.

MELANIE
Your moves are hot!

BABY
Gurgle.

MELANIE
(Chuckling) Thanks, I will use them in my act! Baby drools on himself.

MELANIE (cont’d)
What’s your name? Baby teethes on a switchblade.

MELANIE (cont’d)
Gimme that! She grabs the knife.

MELANIE (cont’d)
You shouldn’t be putting that in your mouth! Obviously, you don’t have a stable family life to keep you out of trouble. She picks him up and stuffs him up to his eyes in her duffel bag.

MELANIE (cont’d)
(Stroking his head) I’ll call you…Lyrone. Step 9: The Climax
Even though the lead is never as good as the nameless supporting cast in the obligatory mass dance/club scene, cover it up with the reaction of the crowd. The hip crowd’s “oohs” and “aahs” will legitimize her street cred and obscure the fact that your star dances like a Showgirls extra. Sample screenplay: The crowd of club-goers parts as Melanie struts to the center of the dance floor. She and her United Colors of Benneton home girls ad lib a perfectly choreographed dance. Even people she’s never met pick up the moves in perfect sync. It’s a sex-less orgy of gyrations and wet spots, and Melanie’s the whore du jour. Step 10: The End
The lead should end up disillusioned with fame and the nature of the business. She leaves the biz behind, preferring to teach inner-city kids how to be unemployable artsy types. She also “keeps it real” by choosing her black suitor. Sample screenplay:

MELANIE
Oh Mandingo, it’s always been you.

MANDINGO
You my boo. Let’s do the do. They kiss.

ARTSY CROWD
Awwww…

MELANIE
As God is my witness, I’ll never be a honky again! The artsy crowd enjoys a hearty laugh, then leaps simultaneously into the air, arms raised in triumph. FREEZE FRAME. FADE TO BLACK. SFX: “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/harris050819/