“Damn! Damn! Damn!”
My reaction to news of a Good Times movie hearkened back to the episode in which Florida Evans learned that her husband had been killed at the railroad job that was finally supposed to get the family out of the projects. You know, after John Amos left the show due to the increasingly buffoonish antics of the JJ character?
Alas,Sony Pictures and (White) producer Scott Rudin are reportedly at work on a film adaptation, along with (White) writer Phil Johnston. According to Deadline, “The movie will be set in the 1960s, which gives Johnston a rich and politically charged period to mine.” The writer of the Deadline report also said “I think this has a lot of potential.”
If he means "the potential to piss off lots and lots of Black people," we’re in agreement there. Although Florida, Buffalo Butt, and Wilona saving Penny from Mrs. Gordon’s fury are forever entrenched in my memory, so are recollections of how culturally offensive and grossly stereotypical Good Times could be. If you take a look at the IMDB page of television writer and playwright Eric Monte, who served as a script supervisor of the show, it was by design.
Monte is quoted saying: “Working on Good Times was real hard. All the White writers wanted to do stereotypes and I refused. Every week we’d argue and fight. They would ignore what I suggested and take all that, ‘Yassuh Boss,’ stuff to the cast and John Amos and Ester Rolle would have a fit.”
Monte also added, “Originally I pictured J.J. as a street smart hustler who drove his honest, hard working parents crazy.” Well, we all know how that turned out. DY-NO-MITE.
I don’t have faith in Hollywood to be any different now, especially if the two handling the reboot are two old White dudes with credits that include the Shaft remake and upcoming features such as A Friggin’ Christmas Carol.
Yes, the show's creator was Jewish. But despite the (many) flaws with the original Good Times, Norman Lear was responsible for the groundbreaking All In The Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and Maude. But it's the new millenium. We've got Shonda Rhimes. We don't need a White dude's take on Michael Evans, the "militant midget."
That’s not to say that White people are incapable of writing for Black characters by definition. It can work, though as the recent Chris Brown and Rihanna-themed episode of Law & Order: SVU and all its “jive-talk” dialogue tells us, it helps to actually have some Black people around. That said, even if they are to get it right, why are they trotting back to the 1960s to depict the Black experience when there is so much going on in the here and now? And why do we need to see one of the most challenging periods for race relations in post-slavery times in a comedy written by a White man?
Who needs this movie when we have filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who became the first Black woman to win Sundance’s directing award for her second feature-length film, Middle of Nowhere, which chronicles “a woman's struggle to adapt to life after her husband's incarceration.” You could also look to subject matter covered by Matthew Cherry and Ryan Coolger. And the Web offers plenty of examples of comedy covering our lives in the present.
Yet, a Good Times reboot is what a major Hollywood studio wants to release. Are our contemporary stories not worth telling? Or is just easier to be lazy and continue rehashing the same ideas from yesterdecade?
Even if you remove that question from the equation, need I remind you how more times than not film reboots of old TV sitcoms suck? For every Charlie’s Angels movie, there’s The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, and I Spy.
I can see it now, NeNe Leakes will be cast as Wilona Woods after Tyler Perry demands he get to play Florida Evans; Cedric The Entertainer will play Bookman; The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Porsha Stewart will play Thelma since she looks like her twin from the future anyway; Quvenzhané Wallis will star as little Penny. Actually…no she won't. She's above this foolishness. I'm claiming that for her.
Regardless of who's cast, this film is going to be a hot mess for a number of reasons. And you can keep your 'I'm just glad to see Black folks on the big screen" argument, because a 2013 JJ Evans cooning and buffooning ain't nothing to cheer for.