Soul Man (1986), the Forgotten Blackface Comedy

by robinhardwick

Happy Fourth! In honor of today, I watched and tore apart then dreadful Soul Man, a film Hollywood has been trying to bury. For good reason.

The Unwatchables

soul-man Julia Louis-Greyfus’ face speaks for everyone.

There’s a short but brilliant gag in Annie Hall that showcases Woody Allen’s observational humor. Alvy (Woody Allen)  is having dinner with Annie Hall’s waspy family for the first time, and although everyone polite, there’s a palatable tension in the air. A quick cut to Alvy shows him dressed as an Orthodox Jew to exaggerate how he thing Annie’s waspy parents view him. Everyone can get the joke, but it’s Allen’s subtle shorthand to Jews watching, telling them, “am I right? This is what waspy people imagine all Jews are like.” It’s the only suspension of reality in a straightforward narrative, but it is one of the ways I point to the greatness of that film (as if anyone needs convincing that Annie Hall is great.)

Nine years later, the same bit is attempted in Soul Man (1986). You may have forgotten about the eighties…

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