Fifty Shades of Black
Directed by Michael Tiddes. Starring Jane Seymour, Marlon Wayans, Mike Epps, Kali Hawk, Fred Willard, Affion Crockett, Tina Grimm. Written by Rick Alvarez, Marlon Wayans.
There was precisely one scene I cracked a smile at during the new comedy Fifty Shades of Black: an irreverent Whiplash parody that puts Marlon Wayans’ Christian Black in bed with 81-year-old Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson.
Mimicking J.K. Simmons, she berates his performance in the sack. “Were you rushing or were you dragging?!” Hah! I was amused not just because this scene was vaguely funny, but because I doubt more than 10% of the audience for this movie has even heard of Whiplash.
The rest of the film is not only an interminable bore, but it’s also a depressing experience that reflects on the state of modern comedy and the depiction of African Americans in Hollywood.
It’s hard to believe this is the parody of Fifty Shades of Grey we get. It’s certainly not the one we deserve. If you’ve seen the original film, you’ve had far more laughs than you’ll get here.
It’s also hard to believe that this is the kind of comedy we get in 2016, in the midst of #OscarsSoWhite. This is a predominantly white movie that gets derives its comedy from having its black leads parade around like idiots onscreen.
Not that race jokes are inherently bad: the closest the film gets to actual comedy is when it plays with African American stereotypes. By “play with”, I mean listlessly depict on screen and expect the audience to laugh.
But the gags throughout much of the rest of the film revolve around talented comedians Kali Hawk and Marlon Wayans mugging for the camera and pratfalling around the screen a la Stepin Fetchit.
A selection of the movie’s more memorable moments:
- During an opening jogging sequence, Wayans’ character grabs a purse from an old lady and steals a car, because while he may be a billionaire, he’s still black.
- When Black and Hannah walk in on a post-coital embrace, Christian’s brother Eli (Affion Crockett) gets up to display his half-meter long penis. It knocks over a wine glass, and comes to rest in a bowl of cereal.
- In a Magic Mike parody sequence, Christian’s striptease in front of screaming women turns to horrific embarrassment when he goes Full Monty. Because the only thing funnier than a black man with a huge appendage is a black man with “a baby dick”.
- To prove his gentlemanly nature after brining Hannah home drunk, Black shows her (and us) his swollen, engorged testicles. “Blue balls!”
- At Hannah’s college graduation, she’s supported by more than a dozen stepfathers who deride her alcoholic mother.
- Christian’s parents are white, played by Jane Seymour and Fred Willard. When Seymour’s character first meets Hannah, she tazes her. “How many times do I have to tell you, Mom? Black lives matter!”
- For dinner, Mom cooks up her adopted children some stereotypical meals, which includes a bucket of fried chicken and kool-aid for Christian and Hannah.
- The couple aggressively makes out in an elevator, to the horror of the white audience crowded around them.
- To settle an argument, Christian suggests the couple “talk like black people.” Arm wave. Finger snap. “Awww Hell nah.”
- The BDSM in the film mostly involves over-the-top spanking and whipping, but the film never dares tie it to the kind of Chris Brown-Rihanna abusive relationship that might give it some real bite.
- It does, however, link the S&M to slavery, name dropping Glory, Amistad, Roots, and 12 Years a Slave, and Django Unchained during the whipping scenes. I couldn’t help but feel that if one of the characters were white these scenes would be more dark and subversive.
These are, relatively speaking, the good moments in Fifty Shades of Black. The film, which cost $20 million to make, is considerably slicker and more polished than director Michael Tiddes’ previous two collaborations with star Marlon Wayans, A Haunted House and its sequel.
But spiritually, it’s far worse. It is not malicious in intent, but it ends up perpetuating the racial stereotypes it wants to subvert. But most importantly: It just ain’t funny.
I find it hard to believe that this film is being released into cinemas in the Czech Republic, where general audiences will be unfamiliar with a lot of the African American stereotypes that dot the screen in almost every scene. They have no choice but to accept what the film is presenting to them, and Fifty Shades of Black ends up a most unfortunate cultural window.