Previous Joints

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Tomatoes and White Chicks

I still use before I commit to emptying my struggling wallet of £10 at the cinema. I can’t even remember when I started doing this; it must have been sometime after I started University in 2005.

I never went to see a film unless it had a minimum of 70% on Rottentomatoes. Why 70%? It was a number that gave me enough reassurance that the film I was paying to see was going to be entertaining.

--- is the ultimate film review site. Usually, reviews give a film a rating score or in some cases the review has a positive or negative tone; Tomatoes gathers these reviews for a film and aggregates a “tomatometer” score from it. For example, Looper has a 93% score, while Hustle and Flow has an 82% rating.

Fair enough - until a couple years ago I discovered that I was missing pretty decent films because they fell well below my 70% threshold - as did some of my favourite films. For example, the classic Eddie Murphy film “Coming to America” is rated 68%. The 2008 cult hit “Taken” is given a 58% score. But, the film which broke the straw for me was 2004’s "White Chicks".



White Chicks is about two African-American brothers (black to you and me), who are also FBI agents and are assigned to protect two socialites sisters (who happen to be white). Along the way, to save their jobs, they have to go undercover as the sisters – hence the title “White Chicks”.


I personally love White Chicks - the film that is - although, my lady is white. But all of this is beside the point.

White Chicks is a silly film, it doesn't even pretend to be serious. Every thing about the film screams slap-stick and farce – and that's fine by me. Also, in my opinion, this film is harmless.

A review from the BBC, featured on Rottentomatoes, says:

Wayans takes one (unfunny) joke and runs with it far beyond the realms of plausibility.”

Unfunny? Says who? I've sat and watched this film more times than I care to admit and the jokes stood up every time. I’ve watched this film with my sisters, their friends, my friends and their families and we all laughed together.

I think a lot of the hate toward the film stems from one uncomfortable place, as the following reviewer, also featured on Rottentomatoes, states:

                   “It's bad enough watching a dreadfully unfunny really awful comedy, but watching a very racist comedy makes it all the worse.”

Now, like I've said above, I've watched this film with a lot of close friends and a lot of those friends are white and they all laughed harder than me (maybe its a good time to remind people that I'm black). Now I’m not saying all of these individuals represent the feelings of all white people toward this film – they don’t. But this accusation of White Chicks being racist is an interesting one.

In my opinion, White Chicks could be seen as a minstrel movie in reverse. This is why I understand and I am sympathetic to the opinion that this film is racist.

Reading about and watching old Minstrel shows is very uncomfortable for me. The disrespect and disregard white actors had for black people makes my stomach churn – but I am unsure whether the same malice is present in White Chicks.

I'm not even sure that White Chicks is a critique of white people in general. I think it’s a film that pokes fun at RICH white people – i.e. the Hilton sisters.

Also, black folks don't get away lightly in this film. Terry Crews’ character, Latrell, is the embodiment of the over sexualised black male that preys on innocent white women and literally leaves them in wheel-chairs after he mounts them (*coughs).

But if you still subscribe to the view that White Chicks is racist, I understand. But then, in my mind, you’d be saying the whole culture of black comedy, from Richard Pryor on down is racist – White Chicks is of that ilk. There isn't a joke that is made in White Chicks that I haven’t heard Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, David Chappelle or Chris Rock say in a more explicit, and yes, funnier fashion. But White Chicks is funny.  

So the only reason I can surmise why White Chicks is controversial at all is because these black actors are in white-face.

I’m trying to wean myself off Rottentomatoes, but it’s hard. I’ve been using that site for a long time and it has now become habit. I understand that films are communal experiences, and Tomatoes tries to get consensus from that shared experience.

But how many good films have I missed out on because reviewers mischaracterised the movie?

This isn’t just an issue with films, you’re seeing the same problem in all creative media. Metacritic, anyone?

We need to find a new way to evaluate films and for the sake of my life I don’t know what that way is.

Make up your own mind about White Chicks. Don’t bother buying it, I'm sure it will be on Channel 5 very soon.