back to the Black Table

White people love black culture. But now the script is being flipped. Literally.

In Hollywood, black screenwriters are bringing old white scripts out for a ride around the hood. It's a significant role reversal that the big movie houses seem to be perpetuating with great frequency these days. The question is whether it's reparations for everything whites co-opted, from Elvis to Eminem, or just pure uninspired laziness.

While nobody's claiming that Barbershop is Caddyshack with afros, or that Friday ripped off Up in Smoke, which is more than arguable, the recent release of Love Don't Cost a Thing conjured memories of Can't Buy Me Love. There's absolutely no difference between the two. (In fact, Can't Buy Me Love was Love Don't Cost a Thing's working title.) To its credit, the new version did change the names of the characters (whiteboy "Ronald Miller" becomes homeboy "Alvin Johnson") but is otherwise just the same story about popularity and prostitution in suburbia.

Chances are that moviegoers have had a lot of déjà vu recently -- reminiscing of times when shitty movies were only made once. These days every flick has a chance to live again, and major players like Miramax know that they can recycle winning formulas by shamelessly matching tired scenarios with black stereotypes.

"Keeping Hollywood's record of race relations in mind, I don't think it's an intentional rip-off of mostly white cast movies in black face," said Laurence Washington of "Black audiences go to the movies to see every genre. It's insulting to think that black audiences don't."

Sure, the studios are using racial stereotypes to breath new life into old shit, but in the end, we should probably blame ourselves for supporting such artistically vapid commercialism.

"I've been saying for years that Hollywood recycles story lines because moviegoers let them. They're dumbing it down for the movie lover, and we keep going," said Washington. "Feature filmmaking is a business where the bottom line is the bottom line. Studio suits know that Starsky and Hutch and Spider-Man 2 has a pre-sold audience. So they're not going to take a chance on losing money on art films or a thinking man's film."

Regardless of who's responsible, there are a lot of similarities on the big screen these days. Here are some that you may have noticed at your local box office:

Ripoff Of The Year.

Naturally, the children's section is a prime place to pull the bait-and-switch. Not only were most kids not alive for round one, but they


don't exactly have a knack for identifying artistic integrity anyway. How else would you explain the popularity of Disney's straight to video sequels?

So must have been the logic behind Like Mike, the 2002 movie in which the gimmicky Lil' Bow Wow plays a teenage orphan with a magical pair of sneakers. In a strikingly similar chain of events to those in 1993's Rookie of the Year, Bow Wow gets a shot at the pros after being discovered in the bleachers. It's really just your prototypical boy gets special powers -- boy signs major athletic contract -- boy forgets about his real friends -- boy realizes that he'd rather just be a regular kid type of movie.


  Rookie of the Year sports the tag line, "The Chicago Cubs needed a miracle… They got Henry Rowengartner." Like Mike's "creators" didn't need a miracle, since they already had Rookie on DVD and a prepubescent rap star who could dribble. Add a hit soundtrack and some urban clichés, and you've got the black side of a carbon copy. Henry faces off with Bonds and Bonilla, while Bow Wow's character, Calvin Cambridge, brings David Robinson "to school." They both form awkward ass-slapping relationships with their older teammates, and learn at the end that friendships are more valuable than fame. Cambridge is "lean, mean, and thirteen," sort of like a Rowengartner with cornrows. Like Mike may be popular with the new kids on the block, but Rookie of the Year is clearly the favorite of seasoned veterans.

Can't Buy Me Love Don't Cost A Thing.

In what is perhaps the most unapologetic exploitation of an old script in recent history, Warner Brothers remade Can't Buy Me Love into what they call an "urban comedy." And while the movie doesn't


actually take place in an urban setting -- it's clear what the filmmakers were talking about, which is that they remade the old one with black actors and actresses. The writing process didn't exactly follow the Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story model of interpolation.

All they really did here was rehash some old tag lines. In Can't Buy Me Love, Patrick Dempsey's character goes from "Totally Geek to Totally Chic," while in Love Don't Cost a Thing, Nick Cannon matures from "Pool Boy to Cool Boy." The word "booty" comes into play on several occasions, and one character even speculates that "Urkel has gone gangsta" once she sees the transformation.



While Can't Buy Me Love is the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a geek who gives her $1,000 -- Love Don't Cost a Thing is the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a geek who gives her $3,000. (The chick is indeed much hotter in the newer one, but her price tag really says more about inflation than anything else). Both flicks are great lessons in how important it is to be yourself, how you really can buy your friends if you have enough money, and how much to pay a head cheerleader for a date. They also serve as solid reassurances that teenage shallowness and bad filmmaking not only transcend race, but time periods as well.

Three Baby Daddies And Another Bad Script.

There was no need to remake Three Men and a Baby, ever, let alone as My Baby's Daddy, which had a blink-and-you-missed-it run through theaters a month ago.

"If you liked the kooky combo of Guttenburg, Selleck, and Danson in


the eighties -- then you're in for a treat at your local video store." That's just one of the tag lines that they could use for 2004's biggest bomb yet. Another could be, "Go rent My Baby's Daddy if you want to see black men (and Michael Imperioli) get more peed on than Guttenburg, Sellek, and Danson did in the eighties." No matter how you look at it there's a thief in the building, and movie fans should hope that he hasn't gotten his hands on Three Men and a Little Lady.

The name of this flick speaks well for its content -- the text is more choc-full-o-cliché than the name itself. The trailer boasts "Players to Playtime," which solidifies the notion that someone smoked a blunt when Three Men and a Baby was on cable. But regardless of


how many baby movie skeletons were already in their closet -- Miramax greenlit this gem with a Waterworld-esque vengeance. Goes to show that three unwanted children are always better than one in the movies. The only way they could have salvaged My Baby's Daddy would have been to throw in a gratuitous ghost shot, but not even that happens during this reprehensible waste of time and money.


It's not like black entertainers are the only ones getting paid by corporate America to steal old ideas. Everyone does it. Jennifer Lopez's Enough was just Sleeping with the Enemy with Tae-Kwon-Do, and 10 Things I Hate About You gracefully maimed Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew with no remorse. And white on white crime continues to be an epidemic. Consider the unnecessary remakes of The In Laws and Freaky Friday.

All re-hashes are shitty in their own regard, but the "urbanization" of old scripts is downright hilarious. And there may be no end to second runs of flicks that were second rate in the first place. Up next? Jamie Foxx's next movie, Breakin' All the Rules, makes it clear that "Paint it Black" will remain Hollywood's theme song. If you want a sneak peek, check out Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Pretend that they're black and save your $20.

Perhaps there's light at the end of the tunnel. Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps are doing a version of The Honeymooners, while Snoop Dogg, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock are collaborating on a new version of the football classic The Longest Yard.

Filmmakers have a segregationist plot, and it culminates in schemes to get people to pay for new movies that they could have rented at Blockbuster. And all audiences -- black, white, and burgundy -- deserve something better than this regurgitation on America's disposable plate. But as long as they keep buying it, the studios will keep on trying to cash in.

"The real culprit is pop-culture," said Washington of "Since the 80s as you know, it's popular to be black, and hip-hop, like every art form that has come out of the urban community, has been homogenized, repackaged and resold to the mainstream. And that will change when Hollywood sees the flavor of the month change in Mainstream America."

In the end, maybe these ripoffs are proof that America is becoming more and more colorblind, with whites co-opting black culture and blacks co-opting white culture. But while white and black may matter less these days, it's quite clear everyone's all too aware of the color green.