A New Visions Commentary published July 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]
Eddie Murphy's new movie "The Nutty Professor" is a remake of Jerry Lewis' movie from the 1960's. It features an overweight professor (Sherman Klump) who finds the secret to genetic re-engineering. Using the secret formula, Klump transforms himself into a slim, magnetic, and boisterous personality, Buddy Love.
Before viewing the movie, I decided to evaluate the movie on three points. First, even though the "The Nutty Professor" is a comedy (comedies do not always have meaningful messages), I decided to assign a positive rating if there was a message in the movie. Second, the movie would receive a positive rating if it did not use stereotypical images of African-Americans to get laughs. I would be able to evaluate this point by noticing whether the audience laughed more at comical events in the movie that featured African-American stereotypes than they laughed at other comical events in the movie. And finally, plain and simple, the movie had to be funny. I would not issue a positive rating if I did not literally get one side-splitting laugh out of the movie.
Beginning with the last point of evaluation, if you are in any way connected with American culture, you are going to experience at least one or two good laughs from the movie. You will laugh either at the action or the dialogue, but you will laugh. Admittedly you may later ask yourself "how could I laugh at such ridiculous behavior?" Even so, the movie was funny and for that reason it gets a positive rating on the third point of evaluation.
On the second point, the movie gets a negative rating. Why? Because, plain and simple, the audience (a multi-ethnic audience) laughed more at scenes featuring African-American stereotypes than at standard comical events. The movie received more laughs during three scenes than at any other point. Two of the scenes featured dinner at the Klump's residence. In both scenes, the movie presents caricatured images of the Klump family -- each representing a stereotypical image of African-Americans doing unthinkable things at the dinner table. The third scene involves Buddy Love in a "playing the dozens" competition with Reggie, a comedian at the local night spot, The Scream. Buddy Love and Reggie get down and dirty as they talk about each other's momma.
It might be argued that this is just a movie, and that viewers know caricatures when they see them. I argue that viewers will tend to equate the caricature with reality the less they really know about African-American life and culture.
On the third point of evaluation, don't you think that every movie should have a message? The theme of the "The Nutty Professor" is spewed forth by Professor Klump at the very end of the movie: "It's not about being happy about what you weigh, It's about being happy about yourself." This, in itself, is a very basic, clean, and clear-cut message. But did the movie have to get to the message in the rather negative way that it did? To me, the good message is too little too late. Even so, sticking to the pre-established criteria, I must give the movie a positive rating on this point.
Beyond the three points of evaluation, I give the movie a positive rating because of Professor Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett), the beautiful colleague of Professor Klump who plays a solid and wholesome role throughout. This rating, however, is offset by the movie's inability to do more than simply remake Jerry Lewis' movie. Their is no elevation of the concept to a higher level.
So you say, "two out of three ain't bad." I say, "when I pay to watch, I expect a positive rating on all three points." Moreover, "The Nutty Professor" is a destructive movie for African-Americans. The presentation of negative stereotypical images of African-Americans will undoubtedly play a significant role in perpetuating such images. These images hurt African-Americans in every phase of American life -- to say nothing about the effect of such images around the world.
by B.B. Robinson, a member of the national Advisory Council of the African-American leadership group Project 21, President of Eye on the Media, Inc. (McLean, VA). ###
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