Exclusive: Director Reginald Hudlin talks Boomerang 20 Years Later, Black Panther, and producing Django Unchained
Director Reginald Hudlin talks Boomerang 20 Years Later, Black Panther, and producing Django Unchained
by Wilson Morales
July 1, 2012
While Hollywood is currently celebrating the success of Will Packer‘s Think Like A Man, having grossed over $90M at the box office, it wouldn’t be the first time a black romantic comedy has crossed passed $50M mark. There have been others, but today marks the 20th anniversary of the most successful black romantic comedy, ‘Boomerang.’
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, who previously had success with his debut film, ‘House Party,’ ‘Boomerang’ starred the reigning box office king at the time Eddie Murphy, a relatively unknown Halle Berry, and a host of comediennes who were just getting their feet wet in the film world (Martin Lawrence, David Alan Grier, Chris Rock). Along with veterans Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones, John Witherspoon, Geoffrey Holder, and Tisha Campbell-Martin memorable in her scenes with Murphy, the film was a box office smash, grossing $70M domestically, and a worldwide total of $131M.
Murphy played Marcus Graham, a high-powered ad exec who’s the classic ladies’ man. Debonair and a chauvinist, Marcus believes he has to keep bedding women until he’s found the right one to settle with. When he meets and wants the beautiful Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), who also happens to be his boss, little does he know that she’s exactly like him. It’s a game of cat and mouse, with Marcus desperately looking for love in the wrong places.
Although he went on to direct a few more films such as The Great White Hype, The Ladies Man, and some episodes on various TV shows, Hudlin found better success as the President of Entertainment for BET from 2005-2008, and at the same time was the writer of the Marvel Comics series Black Panther from 2005 to 2008. His latest project puts him back in the spotlight as the Illinois native- Harvard grad is one of the producers of the most anticipated films coming out this winter, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
How much of the film was put together by you and Eddie?
Reginald Hudlin: It was originally an idea from Eddie and the script came from the guys he had worked with on Saturday Night Live. They gave it to me and the basic structure was about a player who meets his match. The resolution was different from what we had planned. At the end of the movie, Halle Berry’s character left New York and went to work at her parents’ dairy farm. In the last scene, Eddie rejoins her, wins her back, and the last shot was him milking a cow. That’s not what you saw in theaters. My thing was that Eddie and I are the same age, and when I first met with him about the script, I just talked about what I thought the movie could be. When I mentioned things that he would know like the Silver Shadow nightclub in New York, he couldn’t believe that he was talking to a director who knew those same reference points in terms of Buppie culture. He got very excited and we had trying to do something together for a while ever he saw ‘House Party.’ He was a big fan of the film. We spent a year pitching idea back and forth before the ‘Boomerang’ script was ready.
Did Eddie have a hand in casting?
RH: Casting the film was me and my brother (Warrington Hudlin). Eddie was aware of everything, but he let us do our thing. We were focused on making sure Eddie had a cast as good as he was. Throughout the times in Eddie’s movies, it’s just Eddie. He doesn’t have comparable comedic talent around him. Putting Martin Lawrence, David Alan Grier, and Chris Rock around him was really important to me. He and I very much agreed that Robin Givens was the right person for the part. The studio disagreed. They wanted another actress for the role and she was very good, buy we just thought that Robin was perfect and she was. With Halle, she was an unknown. She came in with film credits but not a meaningful awareness. When she walked in the room, she was undeniable, and not because of her beauty. We auditioned her and thought she was fabulous and when Eddie read her, he felt the same way. It was a done deal.
Coming in from previously directing ‘House Party,’ which was more comedic than romantic, was there a challenge doing the reverse with this film?
RH: No. It was where my head was. I was always a big fan of Woody Allen’s movies, with films like ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan.’ I was a big fan of Preston Sturges. I was very excited to making a movie like that, and that was based in my own life experience.
While there have been several black romantic comedies to be released since ‘Boomerang,’ it’s still the highest grossing film among all of them. While it grossed $70 million in total domestically, after a $13M opening, it did another $60 plus overseas. These days most black films, let alone black romantic comedies, can’t get international distribution.
RH: Obviously, having Eddie Murphy as the star makes all the difference in the world. He was a global star at that point in his career. He used that star power to do something that was very unique, which was to do a black romantic comedy. This is something that I remember one of the executives at the studios told me to my face, saying, “Look. I don’t know how you make a romantic comedy with Eddie Murphy with that big nose and big lips.” I was like, “Wow!” That sort of straight up in your face racism is pretty extraordinary. I knew that they wanted us to start yelling and screaming and disqualify ourselves from this opportunity, but I knew that we were about to make a difference.
Who knew at the time that, besides Eddie, some of the cast would become leading players (Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock) in Hollywood?
RH: I remember talking to one of the producers at the time and saying, “Ten years from now, people won’t believe we had all these people in the same cast.” If you were there, you felt it. You felt that this was an explosive moment and that all these people were enormously talented and would go on to great careers. I’m so grateful that that’s what happened.
After this film did very well, it would be another four years before you did ‘The Great White Hype.’ Normally, when a black film does extremely well, the thinking is that we would see similar films from other studios or a sequel. That was not the case here.
RH: That was one of the tragic circumstances. We thought this movie would start a chain of films like this and it didn’t. There was this real hostile reaction in certain corners in Hollywood to the film. Eddie wasn’t doing what Eddie was supposed to do, which is to be a fast talking con man. It was him evolving his image. They kept saying that ‘Boomerang’ was a failure. It was not a failure. Did it make as much money as ‘Beverly Hills Cop?’ No, but it’s still a successful film by any measure. His next film was ‘Distinguish Gentleman,’ and to them, it was Eddie as they wanted him to be, a fast talking con man. That movie wasn’t nearly successful as ‘Boomerang.’ It’s not fondly remembered today. At the time, there was a negative pushback in mainstream Hollywood to the notion and prospect of what ‘Boomerang’ represented.
What did you want to do afterwards?
RH: For me, I sort of looked at George Lucas’ career. He did the teen comedy ‘American Graffiti’ and went on to do ‘Star Wars.’ I always wanted to do the same thing. I figured I’d do ‘House Party’ and then do my version of ‘Star Wars.’ I had a big sci-fi project, and several of them, that I kept trying to get off the ground and wasn’t successful at getting those off the ground. It hit this glass ceiling in Hollywood. I certainly don’t blame the system. I wasn’t sophisticated in knowing how to work the system of Hollywood. When I look at my peers, like Spike Lee and John Singleton, we all reached that same point where we had great success doing personal films in then all of sudden Hollywood said, “Now we want you to do our movies.” We still wanted to do what we wanted to do, but “If you want to work, you will do our movies.” We each hit this point of frustration that none of us could figure how to work around.
Twenty years later, things have changed. With the success of ‘Think Like A Man,’ another black romantic comedy, Hollywood has rewarded it with greenlighting a sequel. There’s talk of a sequel for ‘The Best Man’ as well. What are your thoughts on this?
RH: I applaud the success of every black film. When a black film hits, that rises all ships. When a black film flops, that hurts us all. We’re all chained together, whether we like it or not. All of us have to root for each other’s success. For me, when I hit that frustration, I realized that the only way we’re going to have meaningful success is to not to just focus on individual success, but building an institution. We are not to going to do it if we’re begging for a break. At the end of the day, people tell the stories that they want to tell. Yes, black films are profitable in business, but studios are making fewer black films than ever. When you go from 25 films a year to 12, it’s get a little tight. What’s going to get made, is not only commercial films, but commercial films that those executives have deep relationships with and those may or may not be our stories.
Moving forward, San Diego Comic Con is coming up fast (July 11) and you’re always a fixture there, participating in the Black Panel and as the former writer of the Black Panther comic book. There’s been talk that Marvel is thinking of making a Black Panther film? Being an authority figure on the subject, who do you envision in the role?
RH: Marvel owns the property and I knew that going in. People have been talking about doing a movie for many years, even before I got involved with the character. Clearly, I would love for it to be made. I’m very proud of my contribution to the Panther. I wrote the character for five years and I’ve sold more copies of the Black Panther than any other creator on the book. It’s up to Marvel’s decision as to who makes the film and what version they want to tell. In terms of actors, there are so many wonderful people that can be used, but it depends when they will make it. There’s no question that a movie like the Black Panther should have an all-star cast. From the main character, the royal family, the villains, it should be an epic. If it turns out that I can do something about the film, then I will, but until then, I’m working on a big kick ass film and hopefully that success will encourage people to make more movies about black heroes.
This festival will be different as not only are you doing the panel, but you will also be there as a producer for Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained.’ How did you get involved with the project?
RH: That came out of my relationship with Quentin. I’ve known him for several years and whenever we got together, we would always talk about movies. One time we were talking about the history of slavery on film and my frustrations with it. We debated on different movies and I talked about how I hated movies that aren’t entertaining but you’re supposed to watch them anyway because they are good for you. I don’t want to see those. I want to see films that are fun and entertaining and kick ass. For me, the only great film about slavery was ‘Spartacus,’ and if you’re not going to make a movie that entertaining about the American experience, I’m not interested. Little did I know, he was really listening closely to what I was saying and 15 years later, he hands me a script, saying, “You planted the seed, so now here’s the tree.” I’m like, “Wow!” We worked on the film and here we are.
How much is your involvement as a producer?
RH: It’s everything. I’ve been on it literally from the beginning. Quentin is a real auteur. He’s a brilliant filmmaker and I’m there to help out however he needs it. When we have creative conversations, or there are logistical problems that need to be solved, or any number of things that need to be addressed, as part of the production team, I’m there to help solve those problems so he can do his job and make his movie.
How was the reception at the recent NABJ conference in New Orleans?
RH: Oh my God, people loved it. Wherever we go, we’ve had two or three instances where we’ve shown seven to eight minutes of footage to folks; and everywhere we go, people just lose their minds. We’re putting together the plan for Hall H at Comic Con now and there will be an impressive array of folks there.