30th Anniversary Hollywood Shuffle Celebration with Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans
University of Southern California (USC) School School of Cinematic Arts
Los Angeles, CA, April 4, 2017
On April 4, 2017 in Los Angeles USC Comedy hosted a special screening to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hollywood Shuffle (1987) followed by a Q&A with the film’s creator, director, and producer Robert Townsend, and star and co-writer Keenen Ivory Wayans. USC Professor and Co-Director of USC Comedy Barnet Kellman moderated the session. Alessandra Ago, Director of Programming and Special Projects in the School of Cinematic Arts, introduced the program.
Barnet Kellman had these thoughts to share before the conversation began.
Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans are true pioneers and godfathers of American Independent Cinema. The New York Times‘ critic Janet Maslin called their film Hollywood Shuffle “exuberant satire,” and accurately noted its “reality-minded humor.” That’s a remarkable achievement considering that the film is remembered not only for its breakthrough critique of the entertainment industry’s stereotyping of African Americans, but also for its free-wheeling sketch comedy structure that feels fresh and original while also bringing to mind The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947), the films of Preston Sturges, and the early work of Woody Allen.
What holds this knockabout contraption together is the poignant family relationship at its center and the story of one man’s struggle with his responsibility to himself and, ultimately, to his little brother. The film was made in twelve days over the course of two years for $100,000, much of it put on credit cards. It grossed $5 million in its initial release and was honored at the 1987 Deauville Festival, and in 1988 at the Spirit Awards. It is as funny a work as it is serious, and as serious as it is funny.
ROBERT TOWNSEND (Writer, Director, Producer, Actor)
Award-winning artist Robert Townsend transcends any medium he touches whether he’s performing stand up, acting, writing, directing, producing, or running a television network. The Chicago native, Townsend is often referred to as one of the “Godfathers” of the Independent Film World.” With over 30 years in the entertainment industry, he has made an indelible mark in Hollywood with an extensive list of credits. Townsend is a rare hyphen that does it all and has worked with the who’s who of Hollywood’s talented A-List from Halle Berry to Denzel Washington to Eddie Murphy to Beyonce. Townsend’s films and television shows have been nominated for over 30 NAACP Image Awards.
Townsend has created films and television shows that many consider classics, including The Five Heartbeats (1991), The Meteor Man (1993), Holiday Heart (2000), and of course Hollywood Shuffle, which quickly catapulted him to international prominence. His personal journey is the ultimate story of an underdog succeeding against the odds; raised by a single mother of four in the gang and drug-infested West Side of Chicago. Townsend learned to survive the mean streets by using his wits, talents but also with the help of courageous people from the community that invested in him.
Townsend lives to inspire and give inner city youth hope and champion the teachers and community leaders that support them. This was evident in one of Townsend’s recent projects that he directed and produced called In The Hive (2012), which starred Michael Clarke Duncan in one of his last performances and Loretta Devine who received an NAACP Image Award nomination for her portrayal of the real life educator and activist, Vivian Saunders. It tells the story of an African American teenager named Xtra who is stuck in between poverty, absentee parents, the gang life that is drawing him in and the teachers who refuse to give up on him.
KEENEN IVORY WAYANS (Writer, Actor)
The trail-blazing linchpin of a sprawling African-American family of comic entertainers, it was multi-talented writer/director/producer Keenen Ivory Wayans (born June 8, 1958, in New York City) who was the first to achieve national prominence by successfully creating, launching and hosting the landmark In Living Color (1990 – 1994) comedy satire on Fox TV. This ignited and advanced the careers of not only his younger siblings Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon, but others of his extended family as well including Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, and Jamie Foxx.
After being glimpsed in bit parts in such TV shows as CHiPs (NBC, 1977-1983) and Cheers (NBC, 1982-1993) and the film Star 80 (Bob Fosse, 1983), in which he played a standup comic, he got his first real break in the sudsy TV drama For Love and Honor (NBC, 1983-1984), in which he had a recurring role as Pvt. Duke Johnson, who aspired to become a professional boxer. After hooking up with comedian Eddie Murphy and earning writing credit on the star’s raunchy live performance feature Eddie Murphy Raw (Robert Townsend, 1987), Keenen’s visibility rose. Partnering again with actor/director Robert Townsend, he had his first film hit with Hollywood Shuffle (1987). He followed this with his directorial debut I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), in which he also had the starring role.
In 1997, he produced The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show (ABC, 1997-1998). Keenen also turned buff action star with the films A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), which he wrote and directed, The Glimmer Man (John Gray, 1996), pairing up with Steven Seagal, and Most Wanted (James Bobin, 1997).
He directed the horror spoof Scary Movie (2000), which prominently displayed brothers Shawn and Marlon and is still one of the most successful feature films ever directed by an African-American. He also directed its first sequel, Scary Movie 2 (2001), White Chicks (2004), and produced, wrote, and directed Little Man (2006), and produced and wrote Dance Flick (Damien Dante Wayans, 2009).
BARNET KELLMAN, Ph.D (Professor of Cinematic Arts)
Barnet Kellman made his feature film debut with the screen adaptation of Key Exchange (1985) starring Brooke Adams. He went on to direct Dolly Parton and James Woods in Straight Talk (1992) and Slappy and the Stinkers (1998).
He won two Emmy Awards and a Directors Guild Award for his work on the TV show Murphy Brown (CBS, 1988-1998). His other shows include the acclaimed Mad About You (NBC, 1992-1999), starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser, the long-running series Suddenly Susan (NBC, 1996-2000) starring Brooke Shields, and The George Lopez Show (ABC, 2002-2007).
He also created the Gene Wilder series, Something Wilder (NBC, 1994-1995). Barnet directed the movie Mary and Rhoda (2000), which reunited Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper, and has directed episodes of E.R. (NBC, 1994-2009), Alias (ABC, 2001-2006), Ally McBeal (Fox, 1997-2002), Monk (USA, 2002-2009), and The Middle (ABC, 2009—). In all, he has received seven Emmy and three DGA nominations for his work on the small screen.
Special thanks to FQ Editorial Board member Christine Acham for facilitating this collaboration between USC and filmquarterly.org, and to Nicolas Raganato for video editing.