Monday, January 07, 2008

Beverly Hills Cop is Framing Blackness

Ed Guerrero’s book Framing Blackness discusses various ways in which African Americans have been depicted through the history of American cinema. While it may appear to average audiences that the African American image has made great strides in the way Hollywood depicts it, Guerrero argues that this is really a false improvement. Guerrero points to examples of how even these seeming heroic African American heroes are cut short in the way they are depicted on film—mostly depicted merely as streetwise entertainers, completely removed from the rest of the African American community with no sexual impulses. Beverly Hills Cop is a perfect example of how an African American is given top billing, but only after he is forced to fit the stereotypes that white audiences will feel comfortable accepting him in (according to Guerrero).

I found one of the most interesting aspects of Guerrero’s argument to be the way that African American characters, even in starring roles, often seem one dimensional. I think that Beverly Hills Cop is a perfect example of this because despite attempts to make Axel Foley and interesting and relatable character, his family history is never revealed. The audience has no idea what kind of household he grew up in or how he ended up being a cop. These missing aspects of normal character development start to develop Axel Foley as the one dimensional funny, streetwise cop who the audience relates to because of his humor, not his back story. The only family that is offered to the audience is Mikey and Jenny both white friends from childhood and adolescence. Additionally, Axel Foley’s fullness is further truncated by his lack of sexuality. Just as Guerrero cites in Sidney Poitier’s characters, Eddie Murphy seems to lack this basic characteristic of being an adult. For instance, when he goes to the strip club, although he gives Billy money, Axel doesn’t even look at the women dancing on stage. Furthermore, after the initial comment to Jenny about how she’s filled out since grade school he doesn’t even seem to notice that she’s a woman, and an attractive one at that.

Additionally, much in line with Guerrero’s arguments, Eddie Murphy is relegated to the white world, even before he goes to Beverly Hills, almost completely separated from the African American community. For instance, in Detroit, Mikey is the only family-like character of Axel’s that the audience is given. He is white. Additionally, the cop who tries to help Foley after the Lucky Strike debacle is also white. While the chief of police is black, the only exchanges he and Foley have are reprimands. Additionally, once Axel Foley goes to Beverly Hills, the only African American he has contact with his the “Buppie” black cop at the BHPD. This character has attempted to adapt into the white world he lives in so much that Foley finds it irresistible to comment on how he even talks like his partner, how he needs to work on being smoother.

I find that Beverly Hills Cop very much fits in with Ed Guerrero’s analysis of how even African American heroes seem to be short changed in one way or another—having to sacrifice community, sexuality and full development in exchange for a top billing.


Blogger Vladigogo said...

Good call on the lack of a back story for Foley. Murtaugh has one. Riggs has one. Even Tibbs has a bit of a back story as we find out about his mom, etc.

He performs for the audience rather than being someone that the audience emotionally connects to.

9:15 PM  

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