Here’s a film you’d expect a studio to roll out in the late 1800s, when lynching and saying “yes masta” was all the rage. Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) weasels her way into the life of a tax attorney, Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin), hoping to persuade him to help clear her record. He doesn’t believe she’s innocent (remember: she’s black) but when she puts on the charm, not only does she get to play that plantation mistress but she also gets to play his Aunt Jemima. Instead of using Ebonics and black iconography to expose and challenge the rift between white and black cultures, screenwriter Jason Filardi rolls out one tired black cliché and catchphrase after another and subsequently widens that rift. Poor Betty White appears in the film as if to prove that Filardi is an equal-opportunity offender (she says “Negro” and “Faggot” and thinks a Latino in suburbia always carries a leaf-blower in his hand), but the black people in Bringing Down the House do not talk like the white people—it’s the other way around, and it’s this bias that makes the film both stupid and sheepishly reprehensible. Joan Plowright smokes a roach, Eugene Levy gets his freak on and Queen Latifah is referred to as the “cocoa goddess.” And though the film’s white characters repeatedly make fools of themselves, they’re patted on the head as if they’e small children who’ve just made a funny. The ultimate difference between a film like Bringing Down the House and How High is that the latter acknowledges that mocking cultures isn’t a privilege or a road treaded on lightly. I don’t know what’s worse: the crazy ass white people who made the film or the crazy ass white people its most likely to appeal to.
- Adam Shankman
- Jason Filardi
- Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Angus T. Jones, Missi Pyle, Betty White
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