While he was a student at Harvard in 1986, Reginald Hudlin won first place and $1,500 in an esteemed Black independent filmmaker contest for a film that took “a stylish and witty look at teen-age behavior.” House Party, as it was called, became far more than a student project as the same script would be expanded for his first major feature film just four years later, with the added benefit of having his older brother Warrington on as a producer.
Among the many pop culture retrospectives engulfed by the news of the coronavirus pandemic was the 30th anniversary of House Party’s wide theatrical release back on March 9th. The film starred New York City rap duo Kid ‘n Play, the late comedian Robin Harris, and featured Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell just two years before they would star in the hit sitcom Martin.
House Party was one of the most successful Black comedies of that era; it eventually evolved into a franchise that spawned three films, though only the first carried the Hudlin imprint. That particular genre seemed to have exploded in the ’90s, but finds itself not nearly as prominent heading into 2021. “I just think there’s a shift in the culture right now, in terms of what people consider is funny,” replied Hudlin when asked about the changes in Black comedy over the last three decades. “And also, certainly in terms of Black filmmakers, at the time, comedy’s one of the few categories we could even make movies in! At the time, we were like, ‘Yeah, these are great, but we want to tell our story. We want to tell our history.’ And we couldn’t get those movies made. Now we can. Comedy will always be there, and it will come back.”
While the original film had an ensemble cast of comedians and musicians – any film with George Clinton being George Clinton just works – it was Hudlin’s call to cast Kid (Christopher Reid) and Play (Christopher Martin) that gave the comedy its connection to the teen through early twenties audience that still resonates today.
What attracted Hudlin to the New York rappers was their presentation. “I saw Kid n’ Play’s videos on Video Music Box, I was like, “Oh, this is great.” They were very visual, in terms of their look,” he reflected. “At the same time, their dance moves were incredible, and I knew that dance was really important. Because it’s one thing to rhyme, but it’s another thing to have a signature dance move.”
There was another duo that the studio, New Line Cinema, initially had in mind to star in the film. While this combo rode a mostly similar musical lane with Kid ‘n Play, its involvement would have been rather awkward.
“I turned in the script, the studio liked the movie, they greenlit the project — great!” quipped Hudlin. “They said, ‘Look, we sued DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince because they sampled Nightmare on Elm Street, which is a New Line movie. So as part of the settlement, they have to do a movie for us.”
They may not have known that the roles were available, but could House Party have been a completely different film with Jeff and Fresh… err, Will Smith? Their videos were relative staples on MTV at the time – rare for Black artists not named Michael Jackson – and they would become Grammy award winners. Hudlin didn’t wait to find out, telling the studio “well, I love Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince — but I don’t want someone to make my movie because they lost a lawsuit.” [Laughs]
The movie that went on to inspire kids to try the famed Kid-‘n-Play dance has been a staple of Black pop culture for generations for its remix of sorts to the classic teen romper genre made famous by Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and many more. Where raging hormones collided with teen angst and clueless parenting in those flicks, those same joneses crossed paths with more serious concerns of the Black community, notably the AIDS crisis and police harassment. Yet some of the crude humor that couched the serious topics may not be written the same way today. One glaring example is a scene where Kid shares a jail cell with the film’s bullies, played by Paul Anthony, Bowlegged Lou and B-Fine from the famed hip-hop producing crew Full Force.
It’s fair to assume that the Generation Z and younger crowd may see the film from a completely different lens than those who grew up with it. For Hudlin, that’s not an issue at all. “Well, I mean, now people say, “Man, I showed my favorite movie to my son and my daughter and they loved it.” And I’m like, hey, if they loved it? I just declare victory. I walk away. [Laughs] The fact that it works for multiple generations is wonderful. And I’m grateful.”
Its relevance is rooted in a simple truth that Hudlin can easily call out in the 30+ years since he won that filmmaking award in college: teenagers are teenagers. “There’s a girl you like, you don’t know how to talk to her,” he explains. “There’s some bullies that are picking on you. I don’t care, 1950s, 1960s, 70s, 80s to now — those are eternal realities. Those dynamics don’t change. Those are as real as physics, that’s like gravity. That is like the sun rising and falling. They are what they are.”
Though the franchise continued with the commercially-successful House Party 2, the remaining films might as well not exist to the fans of the original movie. So could Reginald Hudlin, who would go on to helm Boomerang, The Great White Hype, Marshall, countless TV episodes and award shows —not to mention Safety, now streaming on Disney Plus— ever revisit his former student film project in these times? In short, no.
“If you make it in the modern day, you have to reflect where the culture is now. The issues are the same, but you would tell it differently. So yeah, I wouldn’t do it, just because I’ve already done it. I don’t have an interest in revisiting it. But yeah, it can be done.”
Yet a barbershop conversation provided a more personal reason why a modern House Party might not work. “This dude came up to me and said, ‘Man, your movie ruined my life! I spent my whole youth looking for that party. And we don’t throw parties like that anymore. We don’t have slow jams; we don’t have the spirit of the party that you saw in that movie.’ I’m like, well, if you don’t have that party, you can’t make that movie.”Comment + Permalink
Dec 9, 2020 — ‘Another Act’: Director Reginald Hudlin talks ‘Safety’ on Disney+ … Also, he talks about his family and his journey from football to Hollywood.
We have a family tradition in our home that I highly recommend to others. On New Year’s Eve, we go around the table and list our top ten moments of the year. It can be a “small” or “big” moment, as long as it is important to you. Often you will surprise yourself by having more than ten moments, or another family member will remember something important that you forgot. The most important thing is that you focus on all the positive things that happened last year, which will help you make more positive moments in the year to come.
If you haven’t made your list, do it today! It will cheer you up more than you know.
Here’s my list for 2020.
1. THE EMMYS
I became the first black producer of The Emmys, which is important, but not as important as the fact that we took a virtual broadcast and made it a show so entertaining no one wants to go back to the old way of doing it!
I directed my first movie for Disney, and I’ve gotten so many great responses from people who’ve seen it! The movie has people watching it many times over, and crying every time. My son is so happy I finally made a movie for families, and that my movie has the Disney logo on it!
3. EMPEROR/IMAGE AWARDS/JUNEENTH/BEAR WITNESS, TAKE ACTION
I produced a lot of other projects this year! EMPEROR, an historically important motion picture, the NAACP Image Awards (for the 7th time!), a Juneteeth special for Turner, and two specials in the wake of all the social unrest across our country called BEAR WITNESS, TAKE ACTION . Those pair of specials presented a unique opportunity to add voices that don’t usually get heard in the conversation about how to fix our nation. AND they were produced from home because of the quarantine, proving that under the worst of circumstances you can still make a show that is entertaining, insightful and reach a wide audience!
My wife Chrisette has been dear friends with Kamala Harris for decades and we’ve been supporters throughout her political career. I am so proud of Kamala for making history and always proud of Chrisette for her political involvement with so many candidates and causes over the course of the year.
My daughter had an amazing year. She really rose to the occasion this year by raising her cooking and cleaning skills and starting her own fitness program WHILE winning a seat on her school’s student government, winning an award for being the student that best exemplifies the values of the school, starting a political action group with her peers in LA high schools and putting in winning performances at debate tournaments.
My son also had a great year. Over the summer, he built a computer from scratch. He didn’t learn it at school. He didn’t learn it from me. He watched YouTube videos and figured it out!
He also had his first year at middle school. Remote learning is a terrible way to start at a new school. But he adjusted, made new friends, and is doing great! He also had a great attitude about taking on a lot more responsibilities. During the last week of the election, he watched the news shows nonstop and seemed to teach himself electoral politics overnight. I am so incredibly proud of his growth and maturity this year.
7. Mom turns 90!
My mom turned 90 this year. She’s healthy, she’s sharp, she’s engaged in the world, she’s online, she’s amazing. We weren’t able to celebrate in the way she deserves because of Covid, but we will make up for it this year!
8. FIGHTING SHAPE!
I got serious about losing weight this year. I’m halfway to my goal, but it’s going well. Not even working out yet, just changing my diet. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
In a year full of hardships for everyone, I was impressed by how all of us in our family rose to the occasion and ended up even closer than before. Having dinner together every night is wonderful…so often I’m travelling for work. We talk about politics, family history, moral issues, or “what would you do if” imaginary scenarios. We also seriously debate music, movies and TV! My years of experience in those fields doesn’t seem to give me any extra credibility. We really got to understand how each other thinks.
My kids also got to see first-hand what I really do all day at work, versus just visiting a movie set for a few hours and leaving. By hearing me on the phone and making zoom calls, they got a much deeper understanding of what I do for a living. Ear jacking is an important part of anyone’s education.
I don’t like to talk about projects too soon but I’m really excited about 2021!! Thank you to everyone for supporting my work and dreams, and I wish you a wonderful New Year too!Comment + Permalink