No Niggas Allowed in Next Day Mail.

These days Hollywood Black comedies fall into two categories with very few exceptions. The first, I like to call the Soul Plane category – which is basically a 21st Century minstrel show laden with the tragic identities, exaggerated personalities and stereotypes. In these films one can expect to see plenty of weed-smoking, booty smacking, gratuitous profanity, violence and malt liquor drinking with a side of fried chicken and biscuits. Just as insidious as the Soul Plane-styled Black comedies are their “family friendly” counterparts, which I like to call Tyler Perry films. These films portray Black families and relationships through centuries-old caricatures. In these films one can expect to see the obese Mammy (often times a cross-dressing man i.e. Madea Goes to Jail, Norbit or Bim Mamma’s House 1&2), the ridiculous coon, the strapping buck and/or the treacherous tom. Tyler Perry style characters usually masquerade in a routine dramatic sequence with a Christian moral motif. I have yet to determine which (if either) of these categories Next Day Air falls into, but after hearing an interview with a cast member this weekend, I’m optimistically hoping that the answer is neither.

nextThe interview I listened to was with actor Wood Harris (The Wire, Remember the Titans). During the interview Harris mentioned that director Benny Boom had a simple rule on set: no one was allowed to say the word, Nigga (hmmmm… continue). Harris went on to say that not only was the word prohibited from being uttered on set, and eliminated from the script, but anyone who violated the rule had to pay a fine! Actors, staff and crew alike were charged a fine of 5$ every time they used the word “nigga”, in any context. Harris joked that he probably paid the most money in fines, followed by Mos Def. The rest of the interview was very interesting, but it left me wondering why the rule was implemented in the first place. The fact that Benny Boom, a former music video director, would have a level of consciousness that would compel him to exclude one of the most popular words in Black comedy from his film/set was intriguing. It’s a question that caused me to analyze other Black ambassadors to mainstream culture, and their relationship to the “N-word.”

When Black culture is placed on a platter for consumption by mainstream America, our cultural artifacts are at risk of being appropriated and abused out of context. This was the contradiction that drove such comedians as Dave Chapelle underground, and left pioneers such as Paul Mooney and the late Richard Pryor vowing never to use the word “nigger” on stage again. Mooney said that he stopped saying it because it had become an “equal oppertunity word” that young people of all backgrounds were beginning to say without reservation (see the Blackademics interview with Paul Mooney for of his perspective). Other comedians such as Chris Rock wrestle with the concept through their comedic routines (see Chris Rock’s Can White People Say Nigger?). Some artists, like Kanye West have been known to shout out to crowds of tens of thousands of his non black fans, “yall can say nigga tonight” – giving them a guilt free pass to sing at the top of their lungs during songs like Gold Digger. Emcee Phonte, of the Hip-Hop group Little Brother thinks of the word “nigga” as universal term of endearment, and uses it frequently to refer to people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. So I guess the jury is out regarding a standard approach to when, where, how and why the term should or should not be used in any given context. Benny Boom simply adds another theory to the mix: not only will I exclude the word “nigga” from my vocabulary, but you owe me 5$ for saying it around me. It makes me wonder what other creative and ethical decisions went into the production of his film. I’m not so naive as to assume that just because Next Day Air excludes this particular expletive, that it also excludes the caricatures and stereotypes of so many other Black comedies. So whether this was a publicity stunt to get people talking, or a financial scheme to generate more funds during the recession – they’ve at least succeeded in sparking my interest.

Thoughts?

4 Comments to ‘No Niggas Allowed in Next Day Mail.’:

  1. BGC on 12 May 2009 at 2:53 pm: 1

    I’ll check the movie out this weekend. In regards to the post it raises many questions. You know how you wrestle with something and then decide you are going to take a stand? This may be his moment where he actually put his thoughts into pratice. I don’t think it was for publicity, but a concious decsion to make his views on the use of the word public. Just my opinion, we won’t know for sure until he speaks on it. Another issue would be consistency. As a music/video director how will he approach his artist? Will he ask the same of them as well? Doing so may not prove financially benefical.

  2. Olokun Shangol Olugbala (better known as D. Noble) on 17 May 2009 at 2:43 pm: 2

    This is a very interesting article, Pierce and whets my curiosity to check the film as well. I agree that most black comedies (and black films in general) leave a lot to be desired and rarely depict the full range and complexity of our communities.

    To do a black comedy without the most (in)famous epithet and loaded word in the entire American lexicon will be interesting to say the least. After seeing the trailers for the film which situates the black and Latino characters in an urban/blue collar/underworld nexus, I can’t even begin to imagine these characters speaking and not using the word! It actually makes me question the authenticity of the script. I don’t know many young black men of a blue collar station in an urban environment that don’t say “nigga.” Again, this will be interesting…

    “When Black culture is placed on a platter for consumption by mainstream America, our cultural artifacts are at risk of being appropriated and abused out of context.”

    Poignant observation and reminiscent of Amiri Baraka’s thoughts in “Jazz and the White Critic,” in which he asserts that our cultural artifacts will always be debased and warped out of context if aliens to the culture (and black folk too for that matter!) don’t take the time to explore and examine the conditions that created the art and artists first. Black art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In order to fully appreciate and critically assess the art, one must grapple with the social, political, economic, cultural and historical conditions that inform the art because the art is a direct response to those conditions.

    I’m anxious to see how Next Day Air unpacks itself. Hopefully it will be a fresh and complicated comedy that comments on the discursive and fluid nature of our communities as we respond to political disenfranchisement, social injustice and economic marginalization, etc. I can’t stomach another lame comedy that traffics in tired tropes of blackness, but I don’t think I can assign high expectations to a music video director that propagates some of the narrowest and base interpretations of black identity. We’ll see how it plays out, but I will match your optimism, Pierce with a classic, “Nigga please!” Keep up the good work.

  3. Pierce on 17 May 2009 at 11:54 pm: 3

    ha. i guess we all agree that we’re at least intrigued. i’ll weigh in again, after i’ve had a chance to peep th movie.

    Olokun, what you doing this week, bruh!?

  4. vëega on 23 May 2009 at 8:16 pm: 4

    Great Article Pierce. Olokun.. Great response.

Leave a Reply

Published on May 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm. 4 Comments.
Filed under black culture,entertainment,film.