"Soul Man"--a new movie featuring a white man who masquerades as a black to get into Harvard on an affirmative-action scholarship--drew a strongly worded statement Tuesday from the local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and has sparked protests from area black student organizations.
The NAACP statement, made by Beverly Hills chapter president Willis Edwards, said "Soul Man's" assertion that there were no qualified black students in Los Angeles County, with a total population of 8 million, revealed "the racism and sexism of the film's creators."
"In the final analysis, it is our opinion that the American moviegoer is really unlikely to waste good time and money on going to see this questionable effort at film making," the statement concluded.
In an action organized by UCLA's Black Student Alliance, a crowd of 200 protested "Soul Man' "s alleged "racist slant" at the film's Friday-night opening in Westwood. Alliance spokesman Van Scott said the group was refuting the film's "false statements about the economic realities black students face at school."
"The film makes fun of the things we have to struggle with every day: the jokes, the hassles, the preconceptions and the demands," Scott said. "That notion itself--that some white kid can take a bunch of 'tanning pills' and all of a sudden understand all the things we have to deal with--is very offensive to us," Scott said. "That simplistic attitude treats the problem as if it were merely a matter of dark skin and not of 400 years of diversified culture. It's a very misleading film."
"In light of 'Soul Man's' successful first weekend, we hope the film's makers will give 10% of their earnings to help enroll a black student in Harvard Law School," Edwards said.
"The movie 'Soul Man' is another attempt to characterize blacks in the 1980s," said a statement released by the Black American Law Students Assn. at UCLA. "However, it is a shallow and futile portrayal of black law students at Harvard Law School. We find the Al Jolson-like portrayal of the main character offensive and trivializing of the reality of black law students everywhere."
"I personally disagree with the position that the NAACP has chosen to take regarding our film," said "Soul Man" producer Steve Tisch. "We're prepared to let the audience--both black and white-- make their own decisions on the politics of 'Soul Man.' We never designed the film to be the definitive statement on racial dynamics in the 1980s; our intention was to offer the audience a comedy."
New World Pictures, the film's distributor, said it would have no comment until it received a copy of the NAACP statement.