Monday, January 07, 2008

Beverly Hills Cop Framing Blackness

Beverly Hills Cop is a combination of action and comedy seen through the interactions and traits of the black and white cop’s characters played by Eddie Murphy- Detective Axel Foley- black and Beverly Hills detectives Billy Rosewood and John Taggart- both white. In the opening scene the viewer observes the streets and cops of Detroit; a city with both white and black people living in a poor and crime ridden area. It is what the audience would expect, poor area, crime ridden equals “blackness”

Foley is the streetwise, tough, and witty Detroit detective who travels to the white snobbery of Beverly Hills. Eddie Murphy plays the hero cop placed in the foreign environment of Beverly Hills where he appears to be the only African American character in the film- with the exception of one Beverly Hills black detective who had about 30 seconds of screen time- and Axel’s boss in Detroit. The whiteness of Beverly Hills serves to highlight Foley’s blackness, he appears out of place yet he takes control as the hero.

Unlike the cops in Beverly Hills , Axel speech ,using slang, and cursing throughout the entire film, his dress- t-shirts and sweats verses the professional police uniforms worn by the “white” Beverly Hills cops, and his overall disreguard for the rules and authority differentiates him from his new environment. He is more suspect then hero. Foley’s appearance- “blackness”- speaks to his culture in Detroit. His soon to be cop friends in Beverly Hills place him in the black stereotype of the criminals that they try and keep off the street’s in their town. Foley’s black street appearance at white country clubs, white detective stations, white hotels, restaurants and art gallery are always received with a look of fear, Foley is an intruder to be feared, that in itself was a black story line of movies of the past. Foley the hero feeds off of the white policeman’s prejudice and gives them more of the same throughout the film. His success in getting the bad guys and proving he is a qualified although unorthodox cop, helps remove his blackness in the eyes of his new partners. The sidekicks, Rosewood and Taggart, are also easy stereotypes as held by the black culture, prime targets for the wicked tongue and quick wit of Foley. Cop eating donuts, Taggart referred to as Tubby by Axel.

Perhaps what is most important about this film is not within its context but what it represented to the industry. A black comic, Eddie Murphy, is given the lead role of a hero cop. He pokes fun at white people, white cops, and gays. He uses street language that includes four letter words without hesitation and yet the audience laughed at his behavior. A mixed audience made it a block buster success with sequels almost as successful. I watched it with my roommates and we laughed as Foley made the white cops look silly. I would not have given that a second thought or perhaps any of this if it wasn’t for the assignment. I would consider it entertainment, it was fun and funny.

Guerrero in “Framing Blackness” wanted to show how the early commercial film industry reflects white domination of American society, and how it has begun to make changes. Hollywood was big business and it was the box office and the profits that made the decisions. Black depictions, little to no major parts for blacks, story lines that were falsified to enhance the white culture and deflate the black culture were Guerrero’s target. This too was true for the black actors, writers, filmmakers and directors that helped to change the industry. Guerrero writes that “Black culture is therefore embodied in the black star's persona and actions, surrounded and appropriated by a white context and narrative.” Beverly Hills Cop allows the black star to do as he pleases even if it is in appropriate within its white context and shows that the box office can become color blind.


Blogger Vladigogo said...

And actually Eddie Murphy, if you watch his early SNL stuff, did take on race a great deal more in that show through the skits. For example, Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood, which is quite funny but also apt on African-American stereotypes.

9:22 PM  

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