The Great White Hype

(Reginald Hudlin, USA, 1996)


When respectable art movies such as Sweetie (1989), Fargo (1996) or Love Serenade (1996) dare to make their characters loathsome and relentlessly mock every available value system, reviewers begin ruminating darkly on misanthropy, nihilism and heartlessness.

But when a disrespectable, bad taste comedy made essentially for black Americans does essentially the same thing, it breezes through Melbourne with scarcely a word of critical comment before hitting the lower shelves of the local video shop.

The Great White Hype is an odd, raucous number from Reginald Hudlin, who directed the terrific House Party (1990). A shady, sassy entrepreneur, "Reverend" Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson), gets the brilliant idea of pitting his prize black boxer Roper (Damon Wayans) against a white amateur, Terry (Peter Berg).

Like many current comedies, this is a satire on political correctness. Sultan feverishly denies that his Fight of the Millennium has any political slant, but meanwhile does everything in his power to fan and exploit the racist passions of black and white America – even down to advertising Terry as being of Irish descent (“Irish is code for white,” he explains).

Meanwhile, Terry has his own ludicrous political agenda. He is a screeching rocker who pens bad songs about homelessness and poverty, complaining about the sexism of the boxing industry while posing with a bevy of bimbos on the cover of Playboy.

No character, and no ideology, escapes the foul, corrosive wit of this ungainly but weirdly compelling film.

© Adrian Martin August 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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