Woody Allen takes a lot of heat for not really rocking with a lot of Black actors and, on one level, that seems understandable, until you consider the fact that Quentin Tarantino rocks with tons of Black actors and takes a lot of heat as well.
Makes us seem like a very untogether people. Mad when were excluded, mad when we’re involved.
Thing is, in Woody’s case, and excluding his lame defense of himself where he suggested that he doesn’t use a lot of Black actors because, paraphrasing, he casts who’s right for the part, the truth is he does almost always use Black actors and what’s important is that their use is usually symbolic.
Whereas even Richard Pryor criticized the futuristic movie Logan’s Run by declaring that “there ain’t no niggas in it” and going further by adding “white folks ain’t planning for us to be here,” Woody made sure that in his own futuristic comedy, Sleeper, the first face hero Miles Monroe sees after awaking from a 200-year coma is that of a Black doctor.
It’s hilarious that in Love and Death, a comedy set in Napoleonic Russia, the drill Sargent for the Russian army is a Black American actor Frank Adu.
Woody dons a non-offensive blackface for Zelig, the best line in Bullets Over Broadway‘s is delivered by Annie Joe Edwards who channels Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel to say, “I sure pities the poor folks who’re gonna hafta pay to see the play!” and when a Sean Penn and the set of Black jazz musicians he rolls with in Sweet and Lowdown start talking about Penn’s character’s gun, Darryl Alan Reed delivers the classic, “there should be no gun in this car except my gun.”
Major Black actors have had a few starring roles in Woody Allen films. Chiwetel Ejiofor does a great turn as Ellis in Melinda and Melinda and Hazelle Goodman is brilliant in the superb Deconstructing Harry.
Thing is, the Deconstructing role was rumored to be written with Whoopie Goldberg in mind, and though, like I said, Ms. Goodman did a terrific job, I’d have rather seen Whoopie for 2 reasons:
1) I think she might have been just a little bit better
2) Billy Crystal and Robin Williams were also in the movie and this would have been the only time the three-tiered multiple Academy Awards hosts ever appeared onscreen together.
But, from what I understand, Whoopie didn’t want to play a prostitute. Guess she didn’t get the memo that she wouldn’t have to actually fuck Woody.
And of course, there are Black actors who a Woody Allen screen credit sure as shit couldn’t have hurt. Wendell Pierce turns up as a non-speaking cop in Manhattan Murder Mystery. Isiah Whitlock Jr. does get to speak and is also a cop in Everyone Says I Love You. Daniel Sunjata is also in Melinda and Melinda.
Singer Bobby Short turns up playing himself and singing in Hannah and Her Sisters. Jeffrey Wright and Wood Harris are both in Celebrity. Sonia Rolland gives being Josephine Baker a non-speaking whirl in Midnight in Paris. And who that’s ever seen any move anywhere and has also seen Bananas, could ever forget Dorthi Fox’s gender defying, head-splitting turn as J. Edgar Hoover?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not defending Woody Allen only because I think he’s the best the genre of film-making has ever seen, I just think charges that he has no use for Black actors are off-base.
As a movie fan and even as a non-actor, I know that #BlackRolesMatter.