I was with a friend the other day who asked me how many movies I had made. I started to do a count because I wasn’t sure. I said ten but I realized I was leaving some movies out. So I made this list. It’s much longer than I thought it would be.
I’ve directed 8 movies on this list, and one third of COSMIC SLOP. There are many hours of television work in sitcoms, dramas and producing award shows and being a television executive that I haven’t counted.
There’s an interesting cross section of genres in this list: teen comedy, romantic comedies, family animation, sports comedy, sports drama, science fiction, period action, period drama, contemporary drama, documentary…
1. HOUSE PARTY
My first feature film, based on my senior thesis from college. One of the most profitable films of its decade. Still beloved.
Finally recognized as one of the great romantic comedies, launching the career of Hallie Berry and the musical career of Toni Braxton.
3. BEBE’S KIDS
After his star making appearance in HOUSE PARTY, my next film was going to be based on Robin Harris’ legendary comedy routine. When he passed away, I made into an animated feature so he would always be remembered. It was released the same summer as BOOMERANG, so I had two movies in the theater at the same time.
4. COSMIC SLOP
I included COSMIC SLOP, which I typically list as a television project, but in today’s world, anything feature length can be categorized in different ways. SPACE TRADERS, the segment I directed, is taught in colleges all over the country!
This is the first feature my brother and I produced but did not direct. It was the debut of Millicent Shelton, who has gone on to have a successful career in television.
6. GREAT WHITE HYPE
A satire set in the world of boxing, and the first of many times I’ve worked with Jamie Foxx.
7. LADIES MAN
Will Ferrell, Billy Dee Williams and Johnny Witherspoon in the same movie!
8. SERVING SARA
My first “white” movie, starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley. This and Ladies Man are the two worst movies I’ve made. Things turn around after this.
9. DJANGO UNCHAINED
A transformative experience for me and an incredible movie! Won Oscars, Golden Globes and National Board of Review.
What a cast! Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, and I got to spend time with the Thurgood Marshall family!
11. BURNING SANDS
Producing another first-time filmmaker, Gerald McMurray, who made a powerful film about fraternity hazing. I know feel protective about their frats, but the story is based on real incidents. Like House Party, this movie also launched a whole generation of stars.
12. BLACK GODFATHER
My first feature length documentary, and one of the most impactful films I’ve ever made.
So many people have seen in many times over.
Back producing another first-time director, telling an epic but little-known story of a great man in American history.
This is my next directing project, a sports drama currently in post-production and debuting on Disney Plus this fall.
“Thirty is the age of a grown ass person,” Reginald Hudlin declared on Monday, the day his directorial debut and cult classic House Party celebrated the 30th anniversary of its theatrical release. That means House Party, which starred popular rap duo Kid-N-Play as high school friends who plot a raucous blowout when one’s parents leave town, is officially a grown-ass movie.
Hudlin’s House Party journey extends well beyond 30 years back, though. As an undergrad at Harvard University, the East St. Louis, Illinois native directed a short film by the same name in 1983. The short won top honors at the Black American Cinema Society Awards.
“Back then, the whole black film hadn’t exploded yet, it was everyone making little movies,” Hudlin told Yahoo Entertainment.
“I’m meeting with different studios, and they’re all turning me down. One executive said, ‘Look. There’s two things that nobody wants to see: black movies, and teen movies. You have a black teen movie. No one wants to see that.’
The project did eventually garner the attention of New Line Cinema, a fledgling studio then best known for its Nightmare on Elm Street series, or as Hudlin called the distributor, “the last stop on the train.”
New Line bit, and they had the perfect hip-hop duo in mind to star: “Parents Just Don’t Understand” tandem DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, a.k.a. Will Smith. “And I was like, ‘I love them!,” Hudlin recalled. “So I went to talk to their manager at the time, who was Russell Simmons. Russell’s like, ‘Oh, we’re doing big deals in Hollywood!'”
In other words, no thank you.
“Years later, we’re all in Hollywood together, and I’d see Will Smith, who is the nicest, greatest guy in the world,” Hudlin said. “It was a great movie with Kid-N-Play, it would’ve been a great movie with Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff. I still would love to work with Will at some point. But this is what happens. It was meant to be the way we made it.” (In a fascinating twist of Hollywood role reversals, Christopher “Kid” Reid has said the success of House Party earned them an offer for an NBC sitcom, which they passed on; it ultimately became The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, starring… Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff.)
Hudlin was still interested in tapping into hip-hop to find his leads. “You really had to turn to the music world to find people who had a fanbase,” he said. The filmmaker had seen music videos from Kid-N-Play, best known for hits like “Rollin’ with Kid ‘n Play” and “Gittin’ Funky,” was drawn to their aesthetics: Kid’s famous high-top fade, their flashy wears, and synchronized dance routines. “They were cool, two guys with two different looks,” Hudlin said. This is gonna to be great, he thought.
Audiences agreed. House Party went on to earn $26 million on a budget of $2.5 million, becoming one of the most profitable films of the year and boosting the profile of New Line Cinema, not to mention costars like Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell (who’d later reunited in Hudlin’s follow-up Boomerang before costarring on the sitcom favorite Martin). It found an even wider audience on home video, and is credited with broadening on-screen portrayals of African American teens, helping usher hip-hop into the mainstream, and successfully endorsing the practice of safe sex thanks to its iconic broken condom scene.
It also led to four sequels, though Hudlin was not directly involved in any of them.
“I get a check,” laughed Hudlin, who in recent years earned an Oscar nomination for producing 2012’s Django Unchained and directed the 2017 Thurgood Marshall biopic Marshall. “Every year I open a mailbox and there’s a check! You go, ‘Yes!'”
That’s one benefit that comes from writing and directing one very successful and influential grown-ass movie.
Watch our full uncut interview with Reginald Hudlin here:
Released 30 years ago on Monday, the movie is best remembered for Kid ’n Play and an infamous dance battle. But the breakout hit was also one of the most important films of the 1990s.
“The fact is, these black kids are just like every other kid in America,” Reginald Hudlin says. “It’s the same drama, which is why everybody relates to the movie: It’s the universal experience of being a teenager.”
House Party—the first movie Hudlin wrote and directed—isn’t a novel concept. A teen from Anywhere, USA, gets in trouble at school and is forbidden by his strict father from going to a friend’s party, an order he obviously disregards. From there, the kid spends nearly 100 minutes trying to avoid ass-kickings from three muscle-bound tormentors, two racist cops, and one pissed-off father, all while hedging his bet with two girls who have varying degrees of interest in him. But despite the simple formula, House Party stands in stark contrast to many of the teen films that preceded it—because, as Hudlin mentioned, these kids were black.
The teen movies of the 1980s, such as those written and directed by John Hughes, left an indelible mark on the decade. In many ways, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are as representative of the ’80s as Reaganomics. That is the snapshot of Americana his administration sought to protect. These films depict a distinctly safe, white, suburban teenage existence. Black teens of that era, on the other hand, had no quintessential equivalent. There were films targeting young black audiences that attained cult status, but they didn’t receive the same adoration. House Party, which was released on March 9, 1990, changed that. “Even though you had Beat Street and Wild Style, there was nothing like this,” says Christopher “Play” Martin, who portrayed the party’s suave host. Clueless sparked a teen movie revival during the mid-’90s and Cruel Intentions supposedly put the genre 6 feet deep at the decade’s close, but House Party set the standard.
House Party was the first teen movie released in the ’90s. It came amid new interest in black stories and black filmmakers, spurred by Spike Lee’s polemical Do the Right Thing the previous year; Keenen Ivory Wayans’s blaxploitation sendup, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, in 1988; Robert Townsend’s Hollywood satire Hollywood Shuffle in 1987; and Lee’s first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, in 1986. The headline for a New York Times piece that ran just days before House Party hit theaters proclaimed, “In Hollywood, Black Is In.” Despite how Hollywood might have viewed black cinema, it wasn’t a mere trend. House Party was about to prove there was potency in putting black people in the center of a universal experience.
“Nowhere in that movie is a city or town mentioned because [Reggie] didn’t want anyone who watched it to feel like, ‘This could only happen in Chicago, New York, or wherever,’” says Martin. “If you tell the story right, who can’t get on board with that?” says Christopher “Kid” Reid, who played the lead role. Many people got on board, as a matter of fact: House Party became a box office surprise, raking in over $26 million on a $2.5 million budget. It helped turn New Line Cinema, then a relatively small company, into a reputable studio. It also significantly elevated its rookie director and some of its cast, many of whom were appearing in their first film, to stardom. Kid ’n Play. Full Force. Tisha Campbell. Martin Lawrence. AJ Johnson. Daryl “Chill” Mitchell. The late Robin Harris, who died of a heart attack at age 36 about a week after the film’s release, and the late John Witherspoon. And because House Party was about kids who loved hip-hop and featured hip-hop acts prominently, its success also helped ease hip-hop into the mainstream.
House Party isn’t just one of the most important black films ever made—it’s one of the most important films of the late 20th century, a movie that showed Hollywood the breadth of the black experience, and the immense interest in it.
Long before House Party became a classic, it was a student film of Hudlin’s. An undergrad at Harvard University in the early ’80s, Hudlin spent an entire summer working to fund his senior thesis project. On the last day of his break, he was packing up to return to school when Luther Vandross’s 1982 hit “Bad Boy/Having a Party” began playing on the radio. “At the time, black music videos weren’t really a thing, so I would come up with a music video in my head to a song,” Hudlin says. “I kept thinking about what that would be, and then I thought: ‘No, that’s a movie.’” He had spent the entire summer working on an unrelated script, but “Bad Boy/Having a Party” convinced him to rip it up and start on what would become House Party, inspired loosely by his upbringing in East St. Louis, Illinois. With the assistance of his older brother, producer and director Warrington Hudlin, he got the 20-minute version of House Party in front of more eyes.
The elder Hudlin, who served as a producer for House Party, founded the Black Filmmaker Foundation in 1978 with Yale University classmates Alric Nembhard and George Cunningham. The organization, which distributed early films by directors including Lee and Julie Dash, held screenings each summer where the younger Hudlin showed his short films, including House Party. The film soon found its way into the orbit of Janet Grillo, then a junior executive for New Line. “One of my staffers, Helena Echegoyen, was friends with Reggie, so she brought the short film he’d made as a Harvard undergraduate that was the short of House Party,” says Grillo, now a filmmaker and film professor at New York University. “I was very impressed. The talent just jumped off the screen and it was also personal. He came in to meet and actually had a very long treatment or rough first draft of a completely different script that was about a teenage band. We sort of played around with that for a couple of weeks and it just wasn’t happening, so I said, ‘Well, why don’t you just make House Party as a feature?’”
“One executive was like, ‘You know what no one wants to see? Black movies or teen movies. You have a black, teen movie.’”
According to Hudlin, they moved forward with New Line Cinema around 1988 because every other studio turned them down, citing the scope of the project. “I remember one executive was like, ‘You know what no one wants to see? Black movies or teen movies. You have a black, teen movie.’” Grillo, though, was keenly aware of the obstacles marginalized people face in Hollywood. “As someone who wasn’t able to create my stories because nobody gave a hoot about women telling stories until the last 10 years, I well understood the importance, necessity, and difficulty for people who are not mainstream, white, male, and heterosexual to get access to storytelling,” she explains. It was highly unlikely that Grillo would be able to secure distribution money for a first-time black director, but she pledged to develop the script with Hudlin and ultimately pitch it to her superiors—which she did, as a “black John Hughes film.”
At the time, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was New Line Cinema’s most successful venture. Those films changed the company’s trajectory, though even as the studio forced its way into the mainstream, the studio continued to target the sort of niche projects on which it found its success. New Line was looking for new ways to best accommodate underserved audiences, Grillo says, and House Party was it. The film had an earnestness similar to that of the 1975 blaxploitation-era classic Cooley High, minus the tragedy. “I said this was a different way to reach our audience,” says Grillo. “We’ve been looking at gangster films, we’ve been looking at obviously horror movies, but this is a totally different way to serve them—and it’s fresh.”
Hudlin, who was a fan of American Graffiti, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Risky Business, admired Hughes’s films, but wanted to show the world black America’s version. “It wasn’t so much, ‘Oh, where’s the black character in those movies?’ I just thought, ‘We have those experiences too,’” he says. “My whole career has been focused on showing sides of black life that aren’t normally seen. I was really interested in doing something different and, at the time, there were a lot of very explicitly political films being made. Which is great, but I thought the best way to say something political is to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re sending a message at all.”
Hip-hop was written into House Party’sscript, but it went over the heads of many studio executives. Although the genre was rising in popularity during the late ’80s, and hip-hop-centric films like 1983’s Wild Style, 1984’s Beat Street, and 1985’s Krush Groove had become cult favorites, it still wasn’t on the average exec’s radar. Grillo says the staff at New Line’s New York office was well aware of hip-hop’s rising influence because they rode the subways and walked the streets, unlike their Los Angeles counterparts. “They were going from their houses, to their cars, to their screening rooms, to their offices and back, so there was no real understanding of this emerging thrum of culture,” she says. To remedy this, Grillo sent a copy of House Party’s script along with a xeroxed copy of an article detailing the rise of hip-hop to New Line’s Los Angeles office. The gimmick worked, and in 1988, New Line officially agreed to fund the production of House Party.
When it came to casting the two best friends at the center of the movie, New Line had its eyes on two budding stars, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff—because of their popularity and the fact that New Line had them in a legal bind over an uncleared sample. “When [Smith] was The Fresh Prince, he made this song, ‘A Nightmare on My Street,’” Grillo recalls. “He failed to get the rights from us for that. In the lawsuit, we gave him the option: Either you pay us money or you appear in one of our movies.” Hudlin, however, didn’t want Smith simply because he’d lost a lawsuit. “I don’t want him to not be into it, I only want him to do it because he likes it,” he remembers.
“I remember reading the original script, and we had been approached before by people trying to do movies with us, but this was the best thing I’d read.”
Christopher Reid (Kid)
In the late ’80s, Hudlin had directed videos for Uptown Records (original home of both Jodeci and Mary J. Blige) artists such as Heavy D and the Boyz. Through Uptown founder Andre Harrell, he came across the New York–based hip-hop trio Groove B. Chill (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, Gene “Groove” Allen, and Belal “DJ Belal” Miller), whom he considered for top billing. “They saw me and Groove always cutting up, so they realized we had character,” says Mitchell of the Hudlin brothers. Mitchell adds that certain elements of the story—Lawrence’s character, also a DJ, being named “Bilal” after DJ Belal; being late to pick up the irritable Bilal for the party and damaging his equipment in the process; Belal yelling at Chill for bumping the table while he’s DJing—are based on some of their real-life experiences. However, New Line wanted more star power, though Groove B. Chill still appeared in the film. “They explained the scenario—they had to get a bigger name to get the movie made,” says Mitchell. “And that’s when they got Kid ’n Play.”
By 1989, Kid ’n Play’s debut album, 2 Hype, was certified gold and the duo, Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin, had a hit single with “Rollin With Kid ’n Play.” Hudlin came across their videos on the New York–based television show Video Music Box, which earned acclaim for its early embrace of hip-hop culture, and was impressed by their style, charm, and dancing ability. After meeting Reid in a New York City club and bumping into him a few more times, Hudlin eventually got him to read the script. “It was kind of my job in the crew to read stuff,” says Reid. “I remember reading the original script, and we had been approached before by people trying to do movies with us, but this was the best thing I’d read.” Kid ’n Play had booked a tour and stood to lose money if they opted to do the movie, fueling apprehension from an already uninterested Martin. “When you’ve got rap kingpins like Run-DMC doing a movie that a lot of people don’t remember or know like Tougher Than Leather, I was like, ‘If those guys can’t do a movie, then who are we to think we could achieve such a thing?’” says Martin.
But Martin was outvoted—Reid was in, and so was their manager Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor. “To this day, I’m glad that’s an argument that I lost,” Martin admits.
House Party was filmed over the course of 30 days in Los Angeles in 1989. Most of the cast was green. Campbell—whom Hudlin loved in 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors and 1988’s School Daze and who was cast as Sidney (the girl Kid ends up with)—was probably the most experienced. “Whatever technical question you had, she had the answer,” Mitchell remembers. AJ Johnson was cast as Sharane, who spends the bulk of House Party stringing Kid along, because she and Campbell were already friends. “That girlfriend energy just felt really right,” Hudlin says of their chemistry. Lawrence, who appeared in What’s Happening Now!! and had a small role in Do the Right Thing, also impressed Hudlin through his stand-up comedy. Watching stand-up also led Hudlin to Harris (whom he’d honor by writing and co-producing 1992’s Bébé’s Kids, which is based on one of Harris’s best-known comedy routines), who also appeared in Do the Right Thing and stole every scene with his legendary shit-talking. Hudlin dismissed objections to casting Harris. “People were like, ‘Oh, you can’t cast him because people can’t understand what he’s saying,’” he says. “‘Oh, you’re saying his accent is too black? Oh hell yeah, we’re casting him!’”
John Witherspoon, already a legend in Hudlin’s eyes, was cast off his work in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Hollywood Shuffle, and The Richard Pryor Show. And Hudlin, a huge Parliament-Funkadelic fan, wrote a role specifically for George Clinton—the funk deity has a cameo as a fast-talking DJ at a bougie affair—so he might have the chance to meet him. Full Force, who were already known for their own music as well as writing and producing for Kurtis Blow and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, wound up in House Party as the bullies because the script already included descriptions of them. “It said something like, They get accosted by three bullies with great physiques and Jheri curls, somebody like Full Force,” says singer Lou “Bowlegged Lou” George, who played Pee-Wee.
Full Force completely rewrote their characters’ dialogue (adding their catchphrases, of course) so they didn’t come across like the archetypal bullies Brian “B-Fine” George and Paul “Paul Anthony” George played in Krush Groove. “I said look, if [the Hudlin brothers] don’t like it, I’ll go back to the original script—as boring and bland as it may be,” George remembers, explaining how he improvised to make the trio feel three-dimensional. “And as soon as they saw us do it, they gave us the thumbs up.” Hudlin gave the rest of the cast similar latitude. “To Reggie’s credit, he was like, ‘We just gotta get there. It doesn’t matter how we get there, but I want to get there in your voice,’” Reid says.
Unsurprisingly, giving Harris carte blanche unleashed his trademark brazen, acid-tongued humor. “We were using tape and not digital, so you couldn’t be wasting film, and Reggie and them would say ‘Action!’ and tell [the camera people] don’t roll the camera because they knew we were gonna laugh when we weren’t supposed to because Robin Harris would keep coming up with something different each time,” says Mitchell. “He’d have the dude holding the boom mic laughing and then the boom would dip into the shot,” Reid adds with a laugh. The comedy didn’t stop with Harris. “Martin Lawrence was hilarious, he used to make fun of Kid ’n Play,” George says. “His favorite Full Force song was ‘Temporary Love Thing’ and he’d start singing it on set.” That atmosphere made it easier to film some of the more labor-intensive scenes, such as House Party’s most famous offering: the dance-off.
What began with Chill pressing Kid to show him a particular maneuver turned into the scene that defined the entire movie. It’s impromptu, transitioning quickly from a sequestered kitchen exchange to the heart of the party. The scene pits Kid ’n Play’s brash, free-form style against Campbell and Johnson’s fluid, Soul Train–esque method. “I think what we were able to accomplish was an abstract tribute to different forms of music,” says Martin. It was the product of intense choreography and sweat in a dance studio that, due to the cast and crew’s bond, never felt like a chore. “That was just a walk in the park for us,” says Reid, adding that those were moves they sharpened through live performance. “Those girls are awesome,” Reid says of Campbell and Johnson. “They’re my homegirls, but we smoked them.” (Neither Campbell nor Johnson could be reached for comment.) All parties brought their A-game, so the audience is the true winner.
As wonderfully random as the scene is, it’s the type of moment—a jolt of euphoria—a teenager would absolutely sneak out of the house for. Roger Ebert described House Party as “a musical” in his review, and Hudlin, a proud fan of the genre, still considers filming the scene a top-five day in his life, up there with the birth of his children. “I’ve come to realize that it’s like that Nicholas brothers scene from Stormy Weather or one of those Gene Kelly scenes from Singin’ in the Rain,” he says. “It’s one of the most famous dance scenes in a movie that has ever existed.” Reid agrees, adding that the payoff was more than worth the hours poured into making it: “It was one big, long day. But at the end of it, it’s like, ‘We got paid for that?!’”
It’s a fantastic musical cue in a film filled with them. There’s a perfect callback to the song that inspired House Party, “Bad Boy/Having a Party,” at the very beginning of the film. There’s the rap battle where Kid gets to shine, and for which Reid wrote both his and Martin’s lyrics (“Reggie used to tell me, ‘You’re supposed to win, but let’s get there in a certain way,’” he recalls). There’s the slow dance to Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.” There’s even Kid’s surreal jailhouse rap, which Hudlin now regrets for its homophobia (“There’s nothing worse than offending people who you don’t mean to offend,” he says). But what makes the dance-off stand out is the buoyant “Ain’t My Type of Hype.” The song, originally included on Full Force’s 1989 album, Smoove, blew up due to the movie. “The Hudlin brothers loved that song, and to this day, because of House Party, ‘Ain’t My Type of Hype’ is our most popular song ever,” says George.
Longevity wasn’t on anyone’s mind, even as the set drew notable visitors at random. “Laurence Fishburne was shooting Pee-wee’s Playhouse; he’d stop by,” says Mitchell. “We saw Sylvester Stallone—he popped his head in because we were doing it. To see him out there, it was like, ‘Damn, that’s Sly Stallone.’ So many actors would come by the set. Then when we did the wrap party, Denzel [Washington] came because it was a big deal.”
Still, no one involved with House Party realized the film was about to change their lives.
It took just one weekend at the box office for House Party to recoup its budget—and then some. House Party succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations, and the response at early screenings revealed that the film was special. “A lot of movie makers of this type of film still look at House Party, business-wise, as a level to reach,” says Martin.
Most importantly, however, House Party repudiated Hollywood’s unfounded yet closely held belief that no one cared about black teen movies. “There was a screening on this lot of 20th Century Fox. We’re driving to the lot, and there was all this traffic, and we got nervous about being late to our own test screening because of it,” Hudlin says. “Then we realized the traffic was people coming to the test screening of House Party. We were causing a traffic jam.”
When the Hudlins took the film to the Sundance Film Festival, it debuted at midnight to a packed theater. Hudlin says that two people from the almost exclusively white crowd approached him afterward with praise. “One was Michael Moore, the filmmaker who did Roger & Me and all those movies, and he was like, ‘Man, I love this movie!’” he says. “And then there was an executive from Warner Bros. who was like, ‘I read your script. I didn’t get it, but I get it now. We’ll buy this movie from New Line. I love this movie.’”
Mitchell realized he was part of a phenomenon when the since-demolished Commack theater in Long Island, New York, sold out of tickets for House Party, which was showing in only one theater. “We got in there and I saw people sitting on the floor in the aisles,” he says. “Security was trying to get them to move and they’d just get up and go to another spot. Girls were sitting on dudes’ laps that they didn’t even know. And when we hit that screen, the noise that came out of that movie theater, yo, I was like, ‘Oh my God …’”
The widespread appeal of House Party became even clearer when the film was released on home video. “This guy who owned a video store in Orange County was like, ‘I can’t keep House Party on my shelf,’” says Hudlin. “‘Don’t let anyone tell you that white people aren’t watching this movie because my customers love it.’”
“It wasn’t just a black movie. I’m sure New Line thought it was—but it transcended that.”
Christopher Reid (Kid)
“It wasn’t just a black movie,” says Reid. “I’m sure New Line thought it was—but it transcended that.” Still, there were specific moments that exhibited what it’s like being black, for better and for worse. The Full Force trio threaten Kid at every turn, but the violent and almost comically racist police antagonize everyone throughout the movie. There are consequences for the characters in House Party—simply for existing—that the likes of Ferris Bueller didn’t have to consider. “This was a teen movie like all of the John Hughes movies and all that,” says Reid. “But look what we had to navigate. The white dude doesn’t have to deal with half of this, all he has to do is wake up and shit is lovely. We have obstacles. But Reggie did it in a way that wasn’t overbearing or heavy-handed.”
House Party’scommercial triumph yielded more opportunities for its cast and crew. After getting offers from every studio in town, Hudlin’s big hit came following a phone call from Eddie Murphy. 1992’s Boomerang, which grossed $131 million globally against a $42 million budget, proved House Party was no fluke. A number of familiar faces from House Party were part of the ensemble cast: Lawrence, Witherspoon, Bebe Drake, Campbell, and Mitchell. House Party’s success funneled most of its cast into steady work (Mitchell has worked consistently as an actor since) or starring roles (Lawrence and Campbell landed the Fox sitcom Martin, in 1992). It spawned four sequels—two of which starred Kid ’n Play, who also secured a short-lived NBC cartoon in 1990 and a Marvel comic book series in 1992, the same year they starred in Class Act.
House Party’s resonance has now spanned generations. People re-create the dance-off at weddings, while a torrent of GIFs have preserved the scene on hallowed social media ground. While white executives at the time may have brushed House Party off because it seemed too impractical to succeed, there’s now entire generations who grew up on the movie. “To hear Method Man’s story of how he took this girl that he was really feeling on a date to go see House Party,” Martin says, “it just blew my mind that someone like Method Man was telling me this hilarious story about a coming-of-age moment in his life where House Party played such an important role.” Reid remembers being accosted by a child who recognized him from the film. “I was in Atlanta a few years ago and this little girl, like 6 years old, ran up on me,” he says. “She said, ‘You got a whoopin’ from your pops.’ I was like, ‘How’d you know I got a whoopin’ from my pops?’ She said, ‘My auntie watches that movie all the time.’ They’re passing it down.” George still enjoys reciting his signature lines. “Thirty years later, I’m still saying, ‘I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ assss,’ because people are still asking me to say it all the time,” he says with proud laughter.
“Thirty years later, I’m still saying, ‘I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ assss,’ because people are still asking me to say it all the time.”
“Lou Bowlegged Lou” George
There’s a good chance House Party’s influence may never fade. In February 2018, LeBron James and his SpringHill Entertainment partner Maverick Carter announced that they’d be co-producing a modern take on the film with a script written by Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori, most notably of FX’s Atlanta. Both Reid and Martin are eager to see how the concept translates in the modern era and for the new handlers to succeed at that. “Let’s get a new crew of young’uns up in there to tell it their way,” says Reid.
“I’m honored they think that much of it to try and make it happen,” Martin adds.
What can’t get lost in all of this is how House Party helped broaden the depictions of black people in cinema at a crucial time. “This is the best time in history to be a black filmmaker,” Hudlin told TheNew York Times in 1990. Numerous black films were released the following year: John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City, Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, Lee’s Jungle Fever, Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, Bill Duke’s A Rage in Harlem, Matty Rich’s Straight Out of Brooklyn, and George Jackson and Doug McHenry’s House Party 2,just to name a few. Although Hollywood’s interest in black storiesand filmmakers dissipated heading into the 2000s, the 2010s marked another upswing. Directors like Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, and now Jordan Peele are currently thriving while telling very different black stories. “The truth is that it’s a cycle, but every cycle gets bigger and better,” Hudlin says. “The movies are bigger—bigger budgets, global reach, better filmmaking.”
“Black people are not a monolith” is a refrain that will likely (and unfortunately) be repeated until the end of time, but House Party’s immediate success and lasting impact are hard evidence that it’s true. “It widened the industry’s perception and understanding of who black audiences are and what they want,” Grillo says of its legacy. “And created a bridge to widen the understanding and perception of black culture to the rest of us.”
Julian Kimble has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Undefeated, GQ, Billboard, Pitchfork, The Fader, SB Nation, and many more.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the coming-of-age, romantic comedy classic House Party. Released by New Line Cinema on March 9th in 1990, the film was written and directed by Reginald Hudlin and starred the rap duo Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin of Kid ‘N Play
Also featured in the comedy were Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Gene “Groove” Allen (of Groove B. Chill), Darryl “Chill” Mitchell, Full Force (B-Fine, Paul Anthony and Bowlegged Lou), Kelly Jo Minter, the late John Witherspoon, who passed away in 2019 and Robin Harris (who died of a heart attack nine days after the film was released).
Play’s parents are out of town, and he’s planning the house party to end all house parties. His best friend, Kid, wants to go more than anything, knowing Sydney (Tisha Campbell-Martin), the hottest girl in school, is sure to be there. But when Kid gets into a fight at school, his father grounds him. Still determined to go, Kid sneaks out of the house and faces one calamity after another as he makes his way to Play’s house and the party of the school year.
Produced by Warrington Hudlin and Greg T. Olson, the movie became a huge success and spawned two sequels: House Party 2 in 1991 and a third installment in 1994. The movie continued to party on with a direct-to-video sequels House Party 4: Down to the Last Minutein 2001, which did not include any of the original cast. The fifth installment House Party: Tonight’s the Night was released in 2012 and saw the return of Kid ‘N Play to the franchise.
Blackfilm.com caught up and spoke exclusively with Reginald Hudlin on his experiences with the film. Hudlin has gone to have an illustrious career as a director and producer with credits including Boomerang with Eddie Murphy, The Bernie Mac Show, Marshall with Chadwick Boseman, and more recently the documentary The Black Godfather. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture as a producer on Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film, Django Unchained.
How does it feel that your movie is now 30 years old and still talked about?
Reginald Hudlin: That’s great. Time is what really tells the story. The fact that it was a success at the time and the cuts of the dance numbers are still constantly popping up on social media, it just means that it’s still relevant to young people today. It’s wonderful.
How did the story come about?
Reginald Hudlin: It started when I was undergrad studying film and when I was in high school, my older brother Warrington gave me a book with blank pages and he says, “Stop telling me your movie ideas, write them down.” So over the years, I had collected all these little incidents or moments or snatches of dialogue. So then finally, I wrote a script that wove together all those moments that collected over the years from my own life, or my friends or my brothers. That became the script for the student film version of House Party.
Today’s millennials may not know who Kid ‘N Play are, but back then they were big. Can you talk about casting them in the lead roles?
Reginald Hudlin: Originally, I thought I would have to do the movie independently, but then New Line became interested and they wanted some folks with star power. I was a fan of the videos of Kid ‘N Play that were running on Video Music Box back then. I knew a young lady who worked for the management company they were with, and I asked them, “What’s the deal with those guests?” She said, “Oh, they’re hard working. They always show up on time.” So I said, “Great. Let’s see if they’ll be interested in being in a movie.” They were incredibly talented in the audition. They were funny, smart, and of course, could dance and had great visual style. But they had a big summer tour booked, and they would definitely make less money making the movie than doing the tour. I promised them in the long run that being in the movie will be better for their careers and that turned out to be true.
Did you allow their personalities to go along with the screenplay?
Reginald Hudlin: Absolutely. With not just them, Kid ‘N Play, but with Martin Lawrence, with Full Force, with Tisha and AJ. We had rehearsals where we would improvise and freestyle and I would incorporate their ideas into the script. You don’t have people that talented and say stick to the script. Particularly, you’re making a comedy.
Not only did you have Kid ‘N Play as your leads, but you also Tisha and AJ as you mentioned in good roles, and you wrote a dramedy with Full Force providing some of the humor. Was that a challenge putting it all together?
Reginald Hudlin: No. It made it easier and better. The fact is movies are for everybody and I wanted to make sure that the female perspective was there and that they were three dimensional characters and not just there as foils for the guys. I just thought that’s just good storytelling. It would also make the movie more appealing to more people.
The thing that people talk about this movie is the dancing sequence that folks have seen many times on YouTube. How was filming that? Was it done all in one take?
Reginald Hudlin: That day of filming that number was one of the best days of my life, certainly as a filmmaker. I was just so happy. I grew up loving musicals and shooting that musical number and no, it wasn’t one take. We did it a million times. After a while, even though we aside from every possible angle, I want to keep shooting mainly because I was just having so much fun. But the budget was so low, and normally with a scene that big, that would be a whole day’s work. We said, “No, we got to shoot that and we still got to shoot all these other scenes on the other half of the day.” So we shot it. We nailed it and then we had to keep it moving.
They’re not with us anymore, but you talk about comedians Robin Harris and John Witherspoon because they provided some of the biggest laughs in the movie?
Reginald Hudlin: Absolutely. Well, those are two geniuses, flat out to comic geniuses? Both of them are the epitome of great old school comedy. I first saw Robin in ‘Do The Right Thing,’ which hadn’t been released yet but Spike (Lee) let us see the movie in advance to see his parts. I just thought, “Oh my God, we gotta cast this guy.” There was some pushback with people saying, “Oh, you can’t really understand what he’s saying.” I’m like, “Oh, now you’e really going to make me cast him.” Just because this guy speaks with flavor. “Oh, no, we’re definitely going to use him.” He was an absolute joy to work with. The next movie I was going to make after House Party was to do a Bebe’s Kids movie with Robin. Then when he passed away, I said, “Well, I still want to do the movie as a tribute to him.” So we ended up doing the movie as an animated feature so that people will always remember who Robin Harris was.
With John Witherspoon, when he passed away last year, I sat down and counted and I realized I’ve worked more with Johnny Witherspoon more than any other actor. House Party, Boomerang, Bebe’s Kids, and commercials for Tide. I cast him in the Boondocks. Basically whenever I was working, I’ve tried to have Johnny Witherspoon in my cast because he’s just such a very comedian. He inspires everyone else working around him. He’s a total professional, and just a great guy. I missed him so much. He just brought so much to the world of comedy, whether it was him in stand up, or him in movies. I always encourage people to go back and look at his clips on the early Richard Pryor show. He was always doing fantastic work.
The movie did very well at the box office commercially. What did it do for you as a director? Was Hollywood calling you? Were you getting a lot of scripts? How did that impact you?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah, it was fantastic. We debuted the movie at the Sundance Film Festival. It played at midnight. It sold out. They had to add all these additional screenings because everyone at Sundance wantws to see the movie. We got offers from major studios wanting to buy the film, from New Line Cinema. Pretty quickly, we had offers from almost every studio in town. All of whom had passed on House Party wanted to do my next movie so we ended up setting up deals and I started working and that became the rest of my career. I did Boomerang with Eddie Murphy, I did Bebe’s Kids and all the other stuff.
Is House Party on Blu-ray?
Reginald Hudlin: I don’t know. It’s always been strange to me that House Party never really been given the first class treatment you would expect from a movie that’s been as successful as it has. I guess it’s the biggest black teen movie ever made. Hopefully, New Line changes their attitude about it, and does a first class revival of the film at some point.
Have you kept in touch with the cast throughout the years?
Reginald Hudlin: Oh, yeah. It’s funny whenever I see any of the cast, it’s like we all graduated from high school together. The person who had the most experience was actually Tisha (Campbell). She had done stuff like Little Shop of Horrors, but for most of us, this was our big break and this is the movie that catapulted us all into the public eye. We had such a great time working together and whenever we get back together, we just go right back to where we left off. It’s really a great connection that we all share.
What do you have coming up next?
Reginald Hudlin: I have a pretty full plate. The Black Godfather is still getting tons of viewers on Netflix. I’ve got a movie I produced called Emperor that’s coming out on March 27. I just did a football drama for Disney called Safety. That’ll be debuting your Disney plus later on this year.
What advice do you give to filmmakers about trying to produce an independent film and then staying in the game?
Reginald Hudlin: I think the key is always great storytelling. Great storytelling never goes out of style. You’ve got to watch every kind of movie. You got to watch them from all over the world. Don’t just don’t just follow trends, but figure out what people aren’t making and make that. Fill a need