Not so superfly
American Pimp's attempt at glorification fails
Aug. 25-31 at ?GSU's cinéfest
A documentary-cum-commercial for Planet Pimp, the Hughes brothers' crapshoot American Pimp is an exercise in post-Tarantino moral relativity chic. While Tarantino's films are all underlaid with the starry-eyed wonder of a spastic white guy yearning for the funky cool of '70s blaxploitation heroes, American Pimp directors Allen and Albert Hughes (Dead Presidents, Menace II Society) seem anxious for a buzz off of that same cocktail of the gun-totin', weed-smokin' criminal demimonde that has replaced cowboys and Indians as the mythical fancy of gullible boys' imaginations. Bouncing from coast to coast, American Pimp interviews a score of high-rolling, trash-talking pimps with names like customized license plates: Charm, Payroll, Rosebudd, C-Note, Fillmore Slim, Gorgeous Dre. American Pimp is a doc so infatuated by the myth of mackdom that it hardly delves beneath the drag-like costumes, flashy cars and outrageous verbal stylings with which the pimp is stereotypically associated.
Any criticism of the pimp is deemed racial intolerance, illustrated by a series of man-on-the-street interviews in which über-whiteys curl their noses at the flesh-peddlers.
These are the squares unhip to the hustlers racket, which is crudely and often tediously examined (though with great difficulty, as explaining pimpdom is like "trying to explain astrophysics to a muthafuckin' wino" notes one procurer) by an array of pimps in D.C., New York, Hollywood, Hawaii and Las Vegas who unconvincingly defend their careers as a fair exchange of women's labor for money, which invariably winds up in the pimp's pocket. Like white Victorian husbands, the assembled pimps advocate a control-the-purse strings philosophy, doling money out to their "bitches" as they see fit. Squares are advised not to be offended by the frequent, virulent use of the word "bitch," however. According to one pimp, "bitch" isn't a derogatory term, but "more a pet name," just one of the many acrobatically obtuse explanations these men use to justify their shoddy business.
The offscreen chuckles of the filmmakers can be heard at various points in the documentary as they listen to the self-aggrandizing, flamboyant boasting of the pimps, signaling the boy's-club frivolity of this questionable exercise in cultural demystification. Even when the pimps explain that beating up their bitches is a necessity, the amoral vantage of the film stays the same, a blasé, amused, perhaps even envious respect for these fast-talking lotharios who've managed to use their personal charisma and masculine power to sucker some hard-luck women into giving up their money and bodies.
Coming from a generation raised on the iconic movie superdaddydom of Richard Roundtree, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, the filmmakers are clearly in thrall to the badass attitude of the pimps who give voice to all the misogyny and sense of entitlement the more powerless, real-world regular guys lack.
Despite its sloppy construction, obvious pro-pimp bias and juvenile hero-worship, American Pimp boasts some unintentional comic stylings, like the pimp trying to explain society's hatred of prostitution as racist. In a screwy, personal spin on social history that makes Holocaust revisionists look like unbiased, respectable historians, "philosophical" pimp Danny Brown explains that until black pimps arrived on the scene, prostitution was socially acceptable in America.
Now you know.
At another stupidly amusing juncture, the pimps wax indignant about how their profession has been parodied in the movies, which paint the pimp as a flamboyantly dressed grandstander. But after American Pimp's eye-popping survey of zoot suits, alligator shoes, jawbreaker gold rings and the platform-and-cape flair of men in full Superfly regalia at the annual "Player's Ball," the movie version of reality has never looked more eerily accurate.
One of the increasingly grating aspects of American Pimp is the pimps' talent for not only justifying the sleaziest kind of behavior, but making themselves look like the victims — victims of poverty, racism, the media, manipulative women — they're even the ones who suffer the most when one of their bitches gets murdered. In one atypically melancholy moment, several pimps attest that it's the pimp who really pays the emotional price when a 'ho turns up dead.
In the pimp schemes of things, they're only providing a public service, as a Hollywood player notes, with the "shelters, and childrens of the night and runaways and different things. Down on Hollywood Boulevard there's a lot of bitches on skateboards and shit down there looking for some direction."
Despite its salacious content and potty-mouthed bad boys, American Pimp is for the most part a depressing, crashing bore, full of sanctimonious, money-obsessed predators with taste that would make Minnie Pearl cringe, selling a dirty business as a higher calling.