No Eyez On Him: The Black Jai Courtney
This week the autobiographical film about Tupac Shakur, All Eyez on Me, arrives in theaters. Named after his 1996 double album, the film is no doubt an attempt to capitalize on the success of Straight Outta Compton, an outstanding musical biopic that I put right with Walk The Line and the criminally under-viewed Love & Mercy (about the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson) as my favorite musical biopics of all time (FYI Amadeus, my all time favorite movie, is far above any sub-genre categorizing, just as The Dark Knight is above any discussion of “best comic book movies.”). When they announced Eyez I had my suspicions and those suspicions arose from another rap biopic: Notorious.
Notorious, to put it simply, is a pile of shit. Notorious BIG is my favorite rapper of all time (sorry Gerardo) and the movie drew me to the theater like a hip hop pied piper. “Hey I love Hypnotize! I will see this movie that looks like a few wealthy NYU film students with 1.9 GPAs made it!” It was awful. The performances sucked. The dialogue was corny (“We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves” is still one of the 5 worst pieces of dialogue I have ever heard in any film, porn included) and everything but the soundtrack sucked. In the lead role was a new actor named Jamal Woolard and he was now associated with a movie that would go down as the worst thing to ever happen to Biggie. When I saw Straight Outta Compton my main concern was that it would be another Notorious-esque experience. Fortunately it was not.
So thanks to Straight Outta Compton, I became cautiously optimistic for All Eyez On Me. And then several months ago, I learned a bombshell – Jamal Woolard would be playing Biggie in All Eyez On Me. At that point I realized AEOM was likely to be dogshit. If you think I am jumping to conclusions allow me two pieces of evidence.
Item 1: The Trailer for All Eyez On Me (DON’T BE LURED IN BY CALIFORNIA LOVE!)
Item 2: The film has not been screened for critics less than 48 hours before opening day. This is basically a signed confession that your movie is trash.
So although this is not his starring film, Jamal Woolard will be playing significant roles in two movies that are going to stand for a while as the film legacies for two hip hop icons. My advice to Jay Z, Nas (Eminem already did his film and had the guy from Ballers), LL Cool J and Kendrick Lamar – if you have had fat black men play significant roles in your lives, put something in your wills that Jamal Woolard cannot be allowed to play them.
This is not to say that Jamal Woolard is necessarily a bad actor, but he may be something worse: he may be the black Jai Courtney AKA “The Franchise Killer.”
The Franchise Killer
Jai Courtney is an actor who has surpassed Taylor Kitsch and Sam Worthington as the white actor who gets the most chances in Hollywood to lead films or get major roles in franchises, despite no exceptional abundance of talent or track record of success. Courtney has been (as far as I have seen) a main player in Die Hard 5, Terminator 5, Suicide Squad and the Divergent series (wannabe Hunger Games, whose final installment had to go straight to On Demand or Seeso or something). This would be like being the Secret Service agent in charge of Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan and then being handed another detail with the next president.
But the danger of Woolard becoming the black Jai Courtney is that he is doing historical damage. Courtney is destroying beloved film franchises, but if Woolard is carrying the Jai Courtney Syndrome (JCS) then he may be destroying legacies of black icons. What might be next for Woolard? A 15% Rotten Tomatoes score for an MLK Jr biopic? Losing weight and winning a Razzie for playing Barack Obama? A starring role in Tyler Perry’s Oprah biopic? Do you see my concern now?
The bottom line is All Eyez On Me looks awful and the black community does not need a black Jai Courtney. It already has Jai Courtney. Jai Coutney is not a white problem or a black problem – he is a human problem and film fans can only handle one.
All Eyez On Me is actually an excellent song, except for the guest verse by “Big Syke”.” In the history of rap I don’t know if I have ever heard a rapper do less with more – the middle verse on a great song on a #1 double album from an iconic rapper and he turned in a stinker. Maybe that is why the film was named for that song – the idea sounds good but it’s hiding a big turd.
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