In modern horror, it seems a movie isn’t a true success until someone parodies it. Black filmmakers have taken a prominent role in the horror parody genre, from the Wayans brothers’ Scary Movie franchise to Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House movies. Heck, even Tyler Perry’s Madea Halloween flicks have some level of indirect parody in them, but aside from a couple of the Scary Movies, this list illustrates the sketchy level of quality inherent in this type of film. Things get even worse when you take into account other forgettable recent horror parodies like Vampires Suck, Transylmania, Stan Helsing and 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The Purge franchise had mercifully escaped such hackneyed skewering until Meet the Blacks, a film from writer-director Deon Taylor (Chain Letter, Dead Tone, Nite Tales) whose title sounds more like a Tyler Perry movie than a Purge spoof. And the sad fact is it’s so obnoxiously awful, you’ll wish it was actually another Madea Halloween.
Like the official Purge films, the story here takes place in a version of America where all crime is deemed legal for one evening a year. Shortly before the annual Purge, a Chicago alarm wiring specialist named Carl Black (Mike Epps) steals a stash of money and weed from a drug dealer and hightails it out of town with his teenage daughter Allie (Bresha Webb, who was 32 at the time of film’s release), pre-teen son Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson) — although everyone says Carl’s Jr., like the restaurant — new wife Lorena (Zulay Henao) and wannabe gangsta cousin Cronut (Lil Duval). They end up in a gated community in Beverly Hills, where Carl figures they’ll be safe because “rich people don’t purge.”
Naturally, as the only “blacks” in the community, they stick out like a sore thumb and find their new neighbors less than hospitable. When the Purge begins, they find themselves with a target on their backs — not just from the people who live nearby, but also from the vengeful drug dealer and a host of other people Carl has wronged along the way.
Comedies are supposed to be light, escapist entertainment. Meet the Blacks, however, is not only a tedious chore to sit through, but it’s actually enraging. I found myself tallying how many years of racial advancement were going up in smoke before my eyes. By my count, 32. So, if this were made in 1984, I might judge it less harshly, but since we’re well into the 21st century and our comedic tastes have moved past C. Thomas Howell in blackface in Soul Man, Richard Pryor as a comedic slave in The Toy and Michael Winslow making mouth noises in every Police Academy movie, I can’t cut Meet the Blacks any slack.
Putting aside the misguided premise of spoofing a film that’s already satirical in nature, the humor in this parody is crass and all too willingly feeds into racial stereotypes, colorism, female objectification, xenophobia, fat-shaming and homophobia. Within the first five minutes, there’s an exchange that sets an ugly, hateful tone for the film. When Carl is served papers by an African man (Michael Blackson), he insults him by remarking how dark his skin is, calling him Caesar from Planet of the Apes, claiming that he was smuggled into the country in a container and saying that he has an “ebola finger.” The African responds by, amongst other things, threatening to rape Carl’s wife. Hilarious!
The characters are one-note racial clichés, painting blacks as uncouth, profane, sexually charged criminals and whites as racist, condescending, uptight elitists. “Hero” Carl is perhaps the biggest purveyor of the stereotypes; he’s a cheap, crooked, prejudiced liar and thief who’s incompetent at his job, is routinely insulting and inattentive to his family and selfishly puts them in danger.
The whites in the film call the Blacks “hood rats,” but frankly, Carl does little to disprove that label. And neither does his ratchet cousin Cronut…and Allie’s ratchet boyfriend Freezee (Andrew Bachelor)…and Carl’s ratchet ex Shoranda (Tameka “Tiny” Harris). (Incidentally, aside from daughter Allie, Shoranda is the only black woman in the movie. The filmmakers could’ve cast a black female lead to counter the walking stereotype of Shoranda, but I guess since Lorena needed to be sexy, they felt it necessary to cast her as a “spicy” Latina — an all-too-familiar tradeoff in Hollywood that leaves black actresses in the cold.)
Practically every minute of Meet the Blacks is cringe-worthy, embarrassing not only from a racial standpoint (the African tries to purge them with a blowgun) but also from a comedic standpoint; there are even corny, Three Stooges-like sound effects. Low-brow comedy can be funny — see the classic spoof Airplane! — but not when the humor comes from a place of such ugliness. It’s sad to see a legend like Paul Mooney associated with this mess, especially when his 10-second cameo is so perplexingly nonsensical, it feels as if the part that would’ve helped it make sense was left on the cutting room floor.
Mooney isn’t the only recognizable face in the film. Aside from Epps, there are plenty of notable names, including Snoop Dogg, Mike Tyson, Charlie Murphy, George Lopez, DeRay Davis, Perez Hilton, Lavell Crawford and Tyrin Turner. But they can’t salvage this atrocious script, which not only dumbs down the Purge movies’ social commentary but negates it with its own intolerant humor. It then adds senseless character actions (Why is everyone so freaked out that killing intruders on Purge night will get them arrested?), padded out by ad-libby riffs and repeated information (In one scene, Lorena tells the kids they need to go downstairs to look for their father and five seconds later, they ask where they’re going and she says again they’re going downstairs to look for their father.).
I don’t know which is worse: the scatological buffoonery of A Haunted House or the straight-up offensive ignorance of Meet the Blacks. I guess it depends on who you think is more tolerable: Mike Epps or Marlon Wayans. Pick your poison.