Aesthetically Speaking

Bad Boys: Smith, Lawrence film franchise can break supremacy syndrome

Bad Boys II, what’s it gonna do? Will Smith and Martin Lawrence went back to the bank and once more cleaned up with an action series that has every possibility of continuing as a money minting franchise… Bad Boys II, what’s it gonna do? Will Smith and Martin Lawrence went back to the bank and once more cleaned up with an action series that has every possibility of continuing as a money minting franchise along the lines of such previous cop-story juggernauts as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

It is truly a new day and age when two Black actors can not only carry a mega-hit but also do so despite a steadily worsening economic depression. Flipping the figurative script, Bad Boys (which came along during better economic times) altered a longstanding formula in which even the most prominently showcased Black character played second fiddle to someone White. With the first Die Hard flick, many a Black viewer were glad Reginal Vel Johnson got plenty of screen time, wasn’t an object of comical derision and wound up heroically saving Bruce Willis’ butt that it was okay for him to be the de facto sidekick.

In a refreshing turn of events, Die Hard 2 saw John Amos similarly filled a supporting role which, however, developed as a crafty and quite formidable villain. Opportune casting: moviegoers who enjoyed Amos on television’s Good Times delighted in his overdue return to the big time. And imaginably couldn’t care less that he wasn’t top gun, because Amos gave Willis a mean run for the money. In Die Hard 3, Samuel L. Jackson was to Willis what Lethal Weapon’s Danny Glover was to Mel Gibson, a highly featured but nonetheless overshadowed partner.

For Bad Boys, all the White characters were secondary while Smith and Lawrence romped and rampaged as the larger than life figures the whole thing was all about. Pushing the concept further, Bad Boys II displaced the original’s cheesecake female character with — hang on to your seats — a Black woman (inestimably boosting the career of Gabrielle Union). There has never been another box office smash of this magnitude, in which actors of color filled three of the most important roles. That, anyway you look at it, makes history.

So, what, one reasonably may ask, are Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, whose commercial clout resulting from this movie series, exceeds those of such automatic ticket sellers as Jackson, Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne and Morgan Freeman going to do with unprecedented power? Actually, it’s a question of what Smith will do, the consistent hit maker who propelled Independence Day and (Gene Hackman and John Voight duly acknowledged) Enemy Of The State to success. Smith’s name (regrettably more than his superb performance), in fact, salvaged the industry’s paramount, artistic achievement Ali from complete obscurity.

Which defines the point at hand. If African American cinema is ever to break the bounds by which it’s yoked to Hollywood’s maintenance of Caucasian supremacy, Smith’s prevalence embodies the promise of that breakthrough. He’d do well to be enough of a race man to facilitate more such films as Ali. Having cemented a cash cow with Bad Boys II (and the expected Bad Boys III, etc.), Will Smith is in a position of unprecedented advantage whereby Black movies finally can encompass on a wide scale the quality of scope White movies manifest as their creators’ birthright. All it takes is for Smith to sign on for a given project of social consequence as executive producer (just like he and Jada Pinkett Smith have done for this coming Fall’s formulaic knock-off sitcom All Of Us — instead of putting muscle behind a risk-taking drama).

Just like European American power brokers have made sure everyone can go the movies and see White life conveyed in a comprehensive cross-section of earthly and, for that matter, supernatural experience, not to mention science fiction, there’s no reason a now-empowered Black entity of undeniable consequence like Smith can’t and shouldn’t look out for his people. His accountants and lawyers probably could figure out how to write

August 4, 2003
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