Monday, May 31, 2004

Adventures in "High" Black(face) Cinema

Sunday evening, I excursed (yeah, I said it) on a cultural outing to partake of some "high" black cinema: I went to see Soul Plane.

Some of you may say, Gee Ayo, for you to be an Artist (with a capital A), you sure do consume some lowercase art. And I'd have to say, Gee, you're absolutely right.

I view such an excursion as a learning tool. Soul Plane deals with themes common to much of my own creative work - black culture and, more specifically, black stereotypes - so, to stay relevant in my own treatment, I need to keep abreast of Hollywood's latest treatment. Besides, with only one Black film every 3 or 4 months, sometimes I get a little desperate to see a Black face on-screen.

Okay, now for the movie. Let's just say that the only thing lacking to fully authenticate my Soul Plane experience was a BET video-hoe waitress serving 40 oz.'s at my seat. Yes, it was just that ghetto.

Which is not to imply that I did not, at one time in my past, stand in Cedar Grove High's hooptie-filled parking lot - sporting an asymmetric fade, wopping to DJ Smurf beats, leaned against a rattling trunk - debating who was lamer, Kilo or MC Shy-D. Which is to say that deep down - way deep down - there is something in me that should appreciate this film.

Where do I start?

Should I start with the fact that half the viewing audience (the theatre was packed) showed up on C.P. time, i.e., after the opening credits started to roll?

The movie opens with the main character, L.A. native, Nashawn (Dwayne Adway), (surprise) late for his flight on a major airline. The baggage compartments are full and so, instead of going on board with him, his pet dog has to be checked and go as cargo under the plane. Nashawn, it turns out, is the only Black person on the flight (or at least the only one in camera view). And as the last one to board the plane, could he be any more stereotypical? Of course he could!

As this twenty-something listens to his blaring discman, reciting some bla-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat goes my gat lyrics with the matching beatdown hand gestures, the flight attendant taps him on the shoulder to ask him, Chicken or stroganoff? He leans over to the decidedly civilized White woman beside him, puts his nose in her chicken and says, Ooohh dat smell good. I'll have dat. Which is when the attendant tells him they are fresh out of chicken and Nashawn is left to eat the gurgling, marshlike Stroganoff concoction. After he devours it quicker than Little John could say, Yeah!, you can guess what happens.

Nashawn storms down the center aisle of the plane, like he stole something, and proceeds to have the most painful bowel movement in Hollywood history. Great, I thought, toilet humor. Then to top it all off - you guessed it - his ass gets stuck in the toilet.

To his credit, Dwayne Adway's physical humor is remarkable. Wildly flailing his arms, he starts beating on the door, sounding alarms, and in the mayhem, an attendant accidentally releases the door holding the cargo baggage. As he is stuck on the toilet, poor Nashawn witnesses his cute pet dog pulverized in the propeller blade.


Nashawn wins a 100 million dollar settlement and starts his own airline, NWA. Armed with his trusty sidekick cousin/hiring manager, Muggsy, played to hyperperfect buffoonery by Method Man, we have the perfect set-up for the first post-9/11 minstrel show.

But wait, no minstrel show would be complete without White people to experience it! (An aside: If I see one more comedian do a let's-see-how-red-faced-I-can-make-the-only-2-White-people-who-came-to-this-show routine, I'm cancelling my Black card.)

The Hunkee family's - yes, Hunkee - (Tom Arnold and company) flight on a major airline has been cancelled, but the agent finds them a flight that will get them back to New York on schedule... on NWA... at Terminal X.

Terminal X, it turns out, is Terminal Malcolm X (yes, it's that kinda movie), which looks a lot like the Five Points MARTA station, the Five Points Flea Market, and Run & Shoot rolled into one: there's the 99 cent store, the half-court basketball with the chain-link net, enough hoochies for a Luke video, etc.

The results of Muggsy's high-flying hiring include: ultraghetto security played by comedienne Mo'Nique (who gave an on-point performance), a chronically-chronicked pilot in Snoop Dog, a supersexual Latina flight attendant, and a gay flight-attendant named Flame (imagine Biggie Smalls with lip gloss). And I almost forgot, the plane itself was niggerized, too; it was chromed out, had hydraulics... and Spinners.

(Is it just me, or have Method Man and Redman just become a straight coon duo since delving into acting? From the Speed Stick commercial to the new film they're co-starring in, it's frankly embarrassing. I can't take these brothers seriously.)

Now don't get me wrong, I got more than a couple of laughs on this 100 minute flight into Nigger Heaven. There were a number of memorable moments: Economy class was more suitably called "Low Class." It came with poles for standing (like on the bus), 13" B&W TV's whose reception improved when the attendant placed aluminum foil on the rabbit ears, and wall-to-wall Colt 45 advertisments. Instead of individual meals, passengers passed around boxes of Popeye's chicken, One piece only! Don't be greedy! There was an on-board nightclub with a guest list, a Lil John & the Eastside Boys video shoot (I recognized 2 guys I used to play baseball with), and an on-board jacuzzi, complete with plenty more - you guessed it - video hoes.

And during Tom Arnold's adventure into the restroom, the attendant (D. L. Hughley), handed him a Caucasian adaptor, to make the toilet seat smaller for a Caucasian ass.

Plus, there was lots of raunchy, sexual humor. There was Mr. Coordinate (from Boomerang), playing a blind man, who got his rocks off ostensibly by fingering this old woman seated next to him on the plane, but who we found later was actually fingering a loaded baked potato left in her seat. Then there was the Latina flight attendant who, after Snoop the pilot had OD'ed, could not recall how to land the plane standing upright. Instead, she had to relive an experience screwing a pilot in the cockpit, assuming various sexual positions (spread eagle, doggy style, etc.) to help her remember which knobs the pilot pushed in landing the plane. There was also the nymphomaniac couple (featuring comedienne, Sommore), who after having sex in first class, in the lavatory, and in the cockpit, found themselves living out an asphyxiation fetish on the landing wheels for one last f*ck as they thought the plane was going to crash: We gonna go to heaven with one... last... good... nut. Nigga stay focused!, cried Sommore.

Sure many of these moments were funny, but the underlying conceit of let' see how awkward we can make these Hunkees feel on this flight wore off really quickly. Again, how many times will we sit through:

Dance, White people, dance. Ha.

Now, speak slang, White people, speak slang. Ha, ha.

Now, lust after Black bodies, White people, lust. Ha, ha... ha.

Did I enjoy myself? Well, I would have enjoyed myself more if I were high or drunk. Then, did I enjoy the movie? I'd have to say I'd have enjoyed it more on video. What troubles me is that this film, even though its a parody, loosely represents what someone thinks Black folks would do with/want in an airline.

Would I recommend it to you?


Well, let's just put it this way: If you think BET's programming caters to your Black entertainment needs, then Soul Plane will more than cater to your cinema needs. But in order to get the full Soul Plane experience, it'd probably be best to visit your local barbershop and get Ray-Ray to sell you the bootleg version for $5 - with Shaniqua's 3-ft high hair sitting directly in front of you, and all.

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