Soul Man (1986)

dir. Steve Miner

Soul Man follows Mark, a graduate applying to Harvard Law School who takes skin-tanning pills in order to black up and falsely claim a scholarship for African American students. The film is exactly as horrendous, as unbelievable, as obscene as that sounds. None of the comedy lands, not even for a moment, not even as people stand and stare blankly at each other after every ill-conceived one-liner quite obviously waiting for the audience to laugh. None of the emotional parts land, with the insufferably entitled Mark apparently only beginning to consider the plights of ethnic minorities when he goes through a teeny tiny fraction of them personally. It is hideous to look at, with Mark’s blackface provoking utter shock and contempt from any vaguely sane audience member. The fact that comedy and acting legends show up in this – James Earl Jones! Leslie Nielsen! Julia Louis Dreyfus! Melora Hardin! – just adds to the burgeoning sense of disbelief. Soul Man is a frankly disgusting movie, to the extent it feels offensive to the very institution of cinema to refer to it as a movie at all.

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