Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Whitewashing of Male Stripping in "Magic Mike": What Happened to the Black People?

WTF?! A black person?
I've finally gotten around to watching Magic Mike on DVD, and my initial reaction was similar to the one I had after seeing The Descendants back in January. Sometimes all a movie needs is a highly esteemed director -- in the case of The Descendants, Alexander Payne, with Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh -- and film critics won't even notice how mediocre it is. Would Matthew McConaughey's performance be generating any kind of Oscar buzz had Magic Mike not been directed by such a critics darling?

That's not to say it's a bad movie. Magic Mike isn't terrible by any stretch, and I enjoyed it more than I did The Descendants. But when you've got guys as hot as McConaughey and Channing Tatum parading around in various states of undress, and you still can't hold my undivided attention, Tampa, we've got a problem.

Ah, yes. Tampa, the place where Magic Mike happens, the Florida city only a few hours outside of my hometown of Kissimmee. Perhaps I missed something when I was distracted by the clock, but for a director who earned his reputation with a hyper-realistic brand of filmmaking that sometimes bordered on documentarian (see Sex, Lies and Videotape and Traffic, the 2000 movie for which Soderbergh deservedly won the Best Director Oscar), the Florida depicted in Magic Mike doesn't look anything like the Florida where I spent the 18 years of my life between the ages of 4 and 22.

Yes, it's been awhile, and places change. Perhaps all the black people who lived in Tampa, Florida, two years ago -- according to the 2010 census, 26 percent of the general population -- packed up and moved to wherever the New York City blacks took off to in order to make Girls one of the most lily-white shows on TV (more on that in a future blog) since the whitewashing of the Big Apple by Sex and the City, Friends and Seinfeld.

Here's the thing: Soderbergh cast an English actor (Alex Pettyfer) as a 19-year-old American, a gay actor (Matt Bomer) as a straight married stripper, two Latinos in key supporting roles (Adam Rodriguez as a stripper and Gabriel Iglesias as Tobias the DJ) and a 53-year-old WWE star (Kevin Nash) as Tarzan the stripper, and he couldn't put any black people onscreen. Maybe I blinked and missed something, but over the course of the entire movie, I don't recall seeing a single black face -- or body -- in a city that is one-quarter black. Ginuwine's "Pony" on the soundtrack does not count.

Would women in Tampa pay to see him naked?
Channing Tatum has some impressive moves, but that stripper revue could have benefited from the presence of a hot black stud. Mehcad Brooks -- formerly of True Blood, the HBO series in which Magic Mike stripper Joe Manganiello currently costars -- could give any of those guys a run for their G-strings. I get it, though: In the Florida where I grew up in the '70s and '80s, few white people would have paid good money to see a black guy strip, and perhaps things haven't changed so much in the decades since. But unless 25 percent of Tampa's population has gone into hiding, couldn't we have gotten a few black faces in some of those crowded club scenes, in one of the party scenes, in a street scene?

Wait, I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think one of Tobias's two thugs who broke into Mike's apartment may have been black. Was he or wasn't he? That's some double-edged sword. If he was, there we go again: the black guy as hired muscle. If not, an all-white cast with no black stereotypes. In some alternate universe where black people actually exist and go out in public, I guess that's some twisted form of progress.

The Best Performance in Magic Mike

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