Hollywood Shuffle – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Fed up with his experiences as a black actor in Hollywood, comedian and performer Robert Townsend delivered his feature directorial debut built around those challenges. The result was 1987’s Hollywood Shuffle, a satirical and semi-autobiographical comedy reflecting what it meant to be a black actor that wasn’t Eddie Murphy or Denzel Washington at that time. The Criterion Collection has given this film proper treatment, complete with a new 4K digital transfer and a collection of extras to further expand Townsend’s vision, ideally opening it up to new audiences and reflecting how little things have changed. At the same time, a funny comedy is contained within, featuring many memorable moments and characters.


Townsend stars as Bobby Taylor, a young black man aspiring to become an actor. He’s working a job at Winky Dinky Dog (complete with a silly hat), where his friend and co-worker Donald (co-writer Keenen Ivory Wayans), as well as his boss, Mr. Jones (John Witherspoon), discourage him from trying to make it in Hollywood. Meanwhile, at home, Bobby’s girlfriend, Lydia (Anne-Marie Johnson), remains supportive. Of course, Bobby will do all he can to try and get the parts he’s aspiring to have, but it could also come at the cost of his dignity.

This is a basic sketch of the plot for the film, but Hollywood Shuffle is primarily built around a series of vignettes playing as daydreams or exaggerations of what Bobby is going through. Key segments feature memorable moments such as “Black Acting School,” which humorously shows off the sort of skills seemingly required for trained black actors to acquire parts, including how to be a slave, how to sound “black enough” to portray a pimp, and other templates reflecting the majority of parts available for these actors at the time.

One of the more memorable segments is “Sneaking into the Movies,” where two black men head into a theater to review various films in a spoof of At the Movies with Siskel & Ebert. During this set piece, they discuss various films, including Amadeus Meets Salieri, Chicago Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dirty Larry, and Attack of the Street Pimps. What works so well about this concept is the way it balances the jokes and evident humor with an attempt to get at the core of what it means to support black features and those looking for a more authentic representation of the culture.

While the film is always focused on being a satirical comedy, one can feel Townsend (who has a very charismatic screen presence) letting out a lot of frustration within this film. The whole idea of producers needing an “Eddie Murphy-type” is certainly a moment to laugh when watching Townsend show up to an audition where everyone is dressed like Murphy during one of his stand-up tours. At the same time, it clearly reflects the limitations afforded to people of a particular type compared to all the roles afforded to others.

It’s even more of the case when you look at how deep this goes in regard to exposing various racial stereotypes. Whether it comes down to black actors not having a “ghetto” accent or being too light-skinned for certain parts, it all comes out as a limiting factor when fighting for the roles of pimp, dealer, or slave. Seeing Bobby have to deal with these sorts of factors, yet still having Townsend come up with creative ways to visualize what is going on versus what could be going on, shows signs of a filmmaker whom I wish was given more of a chance to make bigger movies (to his credit, Townsend has had a very respectable career).

Shot in 12 days over the course of a couple of years and made for very little money by any standard, Hollywood Shuffle is no less evocative when considering the message it is trying to convey. While the industry has become more diverse over the years, it’s still hard not to relate to many of the sketches presented and how much can still be recognized in how things work today.

With all that in mind, does the film have some dated moments in terms of humor? Being an 80s movie, sure, not everything lands with the same punch or has aged all that well. I could even go as far as to say the work that went into making this film and what it represents is more interesting than the movie as a whole. Still, Hollywood Shuffle does manage to be frequently amusing and well worth it for a number of individual sketches alone.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Details: This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.

Clarity/Detail: This excellent transfer does a lot of justice to a film made for its budget. No, Hollywood Shuffle isn’t exactly going to compare to other high-profile films when it comes to cleaning up the picture. With that said, compared to the Olive Films release, there’s so much clear improvement here that reflects what a good restoration is capable of. The details shine more clearly when it comes to the costumes. It’s one of the more notable elements, given all the on-location shooting being done.

Depth: The staging of this film makes for a good understanding of character placement, with no sense of flatness in watching these people move around the various environments. Watching audition scenes, particularly, shows just how strong the sense of depth can be.

Black Levels: The darker scenes taking place all shine, given the age of this film. Shadow work and more are all handled well for this disc. There’s a good sense of contrast and no signs of crushing or noise.

Color Reproduction: This film is full of bright scenes and colors, which helps bring this film to life in inspiring ways. Lots of red and blues pop the right way, further showing off the clarity on display.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive, with so much natural lighting helping to properly show off flesh tones.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with no issues in sight. There’s noticeable grain, but having shot for a low budget on 35mm and 16mm, it just makes the experience more authentic.


Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0 Monaural

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm dialogue, music, and effects magnetic track.

Dynamics: It’s a mono soundtrack, which will only provide so much to dig into. And yet, this is a solid track, allowing the dialogue and various sound effects the room needed to come to life. It’s a track that never hits any flat moments or deals with poor mixing.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.


There’s a nice collection of extras to be found here to round out the package. For a film of this scale, it’s not as though there would be a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, so getting a commentary and a retrospective is about what one would expect. The lack of participation by the film’s co-writer and supporting actor Keenen Ivory Wayans is a bit unfortunate though.

Features Include:

Audio Commentary with writer, producer, and director Robert Townsend – A well-informed commentary where Townsend digs into the making of the film, what it was like at the time for black actors, and other related topics, blended well with Townsend’s sense of humor and abilities as an educator.

Doing The Hollywood Shuffle (HD, 24:12) – Various cast members recap their experiences making the film and the legacy it has left since.

Robert Townsend with Elvis Mitchell (HD, 27:02) – An episode of the KCRW radio program, “The Treatment,” featuring Townsend and Mitchell discussing the film.

Trailer (HD, 1:52)

PLUS – An essay by critic Aisha Harris



Hollywood Shuffle is a smartly-made comedy that deals with the industry in a meaningful way. Yes, it’s making light of many serious situations involving the treatment of black actors (and anyone of non-white origins that has to go through demeaning lengths for acceptance), but it balances that with a sense of fun. Townsend and the Hollywood Shuffle Players are in fine form, with many becoming filmmakers, comedians, or stars in their own right. And the film, overall, uses the sketch format well within its overall story. This new Blu-ray also provides a proper presentation, with a solid restoration helping it look and sound better than ever. And the assortment of extras provided does further justice. A nice satire to add to the collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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