Fear of a Black Hat

(Rusty Cundieff, USA, 1993)


Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (1984) was a good film, but it has had an inordinate influence on the burgeoning genre of the comic mockumentary. Fear of a Black Hat recycles many Spinal Tap elements within the context of American black rap music. The three-man band N.W.H. (Niggas With Hats) is tailed by an earnest documentarian (Kasi Lemmons) eager to probe the sociological implications of this new popular art form.

As in Spinal Tap, we follow the rise, fall, break-up and eventual comeback of this troupe. Managers mysteriously die, ball-busting girlfriends interfere, rival rap bands with higher marquee billings swagger. Director and star Rusty Cundieff (who has since made the horror anthology Tales from the Hood, 1995 and another comedy, Sprung, 1997, which created a TV spin-off) takes easy shots at all the most predictable targets: the band’s transparent masquerade of streetwise toughness, the pathetic posturings of “white rappers”, and the grotesque venality of the music industry.

Many of the jokes are no more sophisticated than those to be found in Julie Brown’s Madonna parody Medusa: Dare to be Truthful (1992) or an average episode of Australian television’s sketch show Fast Forward. But sometimes the silliness of the entire enterprise becomes quite inspired, as in the clip for “I’m Just a Human Being”, a New Age anthem by Tone-Def (Christopher Lawrence) with children waving flowers in slow-motion and lyrics that advise: “Don’t act like you’re superior/Eat something bad and just like me you’ll get diarrhoea”.

There is also a neat parody of the genre of Afro-American urban thrillers, as helmed by one “Jike Spingleton, Black Auteur” (played by Eric Laneuville, director of M.A.N.T.I.S., 1994) and some wonderfully tasteless gags about the L.A. riots and the Rodney King beating. Best of all are the song titles “Don’t Shoot Until You See the Whites” and “Santa Claus is Coming” are representative and their interpretations.

When quizzed about a possible misogynistic inference in the song “Come Pet the P.U.S.S.Y”, Ice Cold (Cundieff) spells out the socially-aware acronym: “Political Unrest Stabilises Society, Yeah!”

MORE Afro-American comedy: Friday, Friday After Next, Scary Movie

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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