Monday, February 21, 2011

Boss Nigger (1975)


In an effort to translate controversy to box office receipts, 70s blaxploitation star and ex-football player Fred Williamson followed up The Legend of Nigger Charley and The Soul of Nigger Charley with another black western, Boss Nigger. All three films were financial successes, certifying Williamson as a black leading man, and marking the most times the N-word was used in a YSM opening paragraph (3), narrowly beating out Dobson's Bloodsport review (0).

Even when he trips he looks cool.
When two black bounty hunters Boss (Williamson) and Amos (Dolemite director D'Urville Martin) come across another non-Indian race killing that occurs so frequently in the Wild West, they decide to stroll into the nearby town of San Miguel and declare themselves sheriff and deputy, respectively. The racist mayor (R.G. Armstrong) is predictably perturbed by the proposition, but Boss and Amos win him over with a steady stream of violence and intimidation.

"Be nice or I'll kill you!"
The two take no time in asserting their stranglehold on the frightened and confused (and racist) public. When a group of thugs in the local saloon jokingly mistake Boss for a shoeshine boy, Boss acts the submissive minstrel part. It isn't until he comes in close that he realizes they are more racist than he imagined, and therefore worthy of being murdered. He then grabs the surviving thug (after shooting him once in each foot) and throws him in jail for being racist.


Racism on the street: $5.00 fine. Racism in a saloon: Death.
After a few misunderstandings among the townsfolk, Amos makes the new laws official. He posts his "Black Law Decree" all over town, which is as follows:

Black Law Decree

Spitting on sidewalk - $3.00
Being called nigger in public - $20.00
Disturbing the peace - $5.00
Insulting an officer of the law - $5.00
Cussing in public - $1.50
Shooting gun in public - $1.50
Riding a horse in public holidays (?) - .75

Tort reform comes next week.
Despite a steep fine for the second violation, Amos's laws are surprisingly fair. Boss and Amos use their new decree to extort money out of the racist populace. They funnel this money back into the local economy (and often the same person they fined) to feed the Mexican children living just outside San Miguel (western towns have outskirts?).

Boss uses his new Black Power Utopia to gain friendships with the town doctor and blacksmith, and friendship with benefits with the town's schoolteacher Miss Pruitt (Barbara Leigh). Meanwhile, Mayor Griffin and local thug Jed Clayton (William Smith) plot to usurp Boss and regain control.


"Get out of my town... and into my bed... handsome."
Though Boss Nigger tried to shock the public with its incendiary title, it was beaten twice over by Williamson's own Nigger Charley films. And considering markets would simply change the title as they saw fit, it doesn't do much to offend people when your prime demographic doesn't even know the real name of the film. Even as a race-themed Wild West comedy, Boss misses the boat. Blazing Saddles was released a year earlier, and handled western-themed racism intelligently, cross-marketably, and with an equally playful stance on racial taboos.

Furthermore, Boss Nigger looks incredibly cheap and rushed. The San Miguel set resembles a rundown Wild West theme park, and it's clear Williamson maximizes profits by producing the movie as inexpensively as possible. Billed as a fun romp with Black Power wish fulfillment, the script takes a surprisingly dour turn toward the end. While most blaxploitation comedies end on a high note, Boss takes a concept rife with humor and abruptly shifts the mood 180 degrees.

Boss Nigger's star is not in fact Boss himself, but the man who played him. Fred "The Hammer" Williamson possesses a fascinating career, wearing a wide variety of (fashionable) hats. Northwestern graduate, architect, NFL player, Monday Night Football commentator, actor, director, writer, and blackbelt in karate, Fred Williamson has it all. His three rules in Hollywood:
  1. You can't kill me
  2. I win all the fights
  3. I get the girl at the end of the movie (if I want her)
Even at age 72 the guy looks great. I would still cast him in an episode of Glee as New Directions' newest baritone heartthrob.

You have no idea how hard it is to be really, really, ridiculously good looking.
Williamson shows how an actor in Hollywood really can be more than the sum of his parts. He never compromised for his success, and showed how a black man in the 70s had to be great at everything before he could even be considered a leading man. Even then he still had to produce, write, and star in his own films to achieve such a milestone. Though he made his movies on the cheap, he showed that a black man could be a badass action star, and did so on his own terms.

Arbitrary rating

Riding a horse in public holidays - .75

Quotable quotes:
Boss: Sorry we ain't got time for supper, but we got us some more whiteys to catch!

Amos: I just didn't like their looks. 'Sides, I love fat women!

Amos: Well you all been hunting black folks for so long, we wanted to see what it felt like to hunt white folks.

Miss Pruit: When I visited my friends in Boston, the negroes would dance and sing. I would watch them. It was a very fun time.
Boss: Well Miss Pruitt, now you can tell your friends in Boston that you've met two niggers that don't dance or sing.

Jed: Go ahead and kill me nigger.
Boss: That's Mister Nigger to you!

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