Hunter Gatherer full movie review - Black People Hauling Garbage Around
While I really enjoy watching movies with all-black casts, and while I very much enjoyed the actors in this film and their performances, I didn't enjoy the script or the concept.
It's set in some sort of timeless fantasy world in South Central L.A.. And while that potentially could be interesting, in this case it seems like an excuse to show endless sequences of black men hauling around trash, in a throwback to the '70s sitcom "Sanford and Son." The lead character, a lovable schemer coming home after a long absence to stay with his mother, has this idea to get $75 cash for hauling away peoples' broken-down refrigerators, because the dump charges $100 to dump them there and people can save money. But his scheme doesn't work, because he has concocted it without making a deal with the guy who works at the dump, who is his enemy anyway, so he ends up stuck with all of the rusty old appliances.
He does everything wrong: he further alienates his ex-girlfriend who already hates him, he is a jerk with a new girl, he gets kicked out of his mom's house for leaving all those refrigerators there, and he messes up his education by being a jerk to his teacher. We are supposed to find all of this a laugh riot I think - indeed, the director at the intro said to the audience, "Just have fun!"- but it really wasn't all that fun.
One reason it's not fun is that while these sorts of tropes would merely be tired clichés for a white character, for a black character they are decidedly unsavory. He is so poor that all we see him do is haul around trash. He is so stupid that his attempted way of making money makes no sense. He is also so stupid that he never learned the alphabet. He is such an asshole with women that all of the women in his life hate him.
Also not fun are the other "colorful" black characters, such as the girl who seems to go with any man who can pay her rent, the obese middle-aged woman who tricks young men into lying on top of her so she can get sexual thrills, and the young man who subjects himself to increasingly disturbing medical experiments for white folks because he can't figure out how else to earn money. Yet white people are not really judged for this, and it never really comes up in a political way. In the end all that the medical patches lead to is a poetic interchange between the two men, where the protagonist takes the patches off of his friend and puts them on himself, creating electricity between them.
Thus in this film real historical problems, such as medical experimentation on black men, becomes disconnected from its historical and political moorings and just becomes a symbol of male bonding. And even the protagonist's journey is made meaningless, since ostensibly he has come from jail but that's no longer in the movie, only in the synopsis. So there is no context, and the characters float around like white characters in limp indie films, navel-gazing, being bratty, and having no real purpose in life. The director admitted to having no personal connection to black culture, and boy does it show. His heart may have been in the right place, but there a reason why they tell you to write about what you know. I for one don't enjoy watching black characters written as stupid, illiterate, and as spending their time moving appliances around for no reason, because it seems to reinforce racist stereotypes about black people being stupid and lazy.
And that definitely is no fun.
It's a testament to the talent and soul of the actors that they still brought something authentic to the screen in spite of the movie they're in. And to the director's credit (who is an art director) the sets are atmospheric, the look is consistent, and the directing of the actors is sensitive. But oy, that script!!