By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Kevin Willmott has laid a claim to being perhaps the preeminent racial satirist in the entertainment business these days (although nobody tell Aaron McGruder). Mock Doc C.S.A. The Confederate States of America is about as incisive a work that the genre’s produced, and his recent collaboration with Spike Lee, Chi-Raq, certainly hit the spot with me.
I mean, Dolemides alone…
Destination: Planet Negro is a pulp sci-fi satire in which a group of prominent African-American leaders, including W.E.B. Du Bois and George Washington Carver, who decide that the black race’s best bet to escape 1920s America is send an expedition to colonize another planet. They intrepid three explorers (Willmott, Danielle Cooper, and Tosin Morohunfola) do end up landing on another world… a surprisingly familiar one.
The beginning of the film is a lovingly recreated, ironically cutting homage to 50s B-movies, from the chintzy low-fi production design full of cheap models and matte backgrounds, to the overly bombastic space opera score. Also, while not quite boasting the satirical razor’s edge of C.S.A. or even the in your face verve of Chi-raq, Willmott still delivers some sharp commentary once the big twist is revealed.
Okay, fine, the big twist is that they travel through time instead of space, to the present day, and express wonderment, bewilderment, anger, and delight at the state of African Americans today. We have a black President, the very concept of which they burst out laughing at when they first hear, but also a racially polarized mentality that so obviously conflicts with that fact that it’s all so hard to process. It’s hard to argue with any of the points put forth in this film, and Willmott even manages to deliver a few new points of view.
Still, Destination: Planet Negro delivers up plenty of old, old peaches, like saggy pants, white poseurs, the complicated usage of “n****r” today (our intrepid explorers are just as confused as the average suburban white kid as to the situations in which it’s appropriate).
None for you, Trevor. Never for you.
This lack of subtlety extends to the inevitable rousing climax, where we get dialogue like “Seeing that man as president- I’ve learned to love America.” and “Martin Luther King had a dream and he gave us Civil Rights!” from characters who just entered the current time stream a few days previously.
A lot of the humor is… not what I’d call top-notch. In a normal comedy, a groaner like making a ‘Commie’ reference to the Red Planet would be allowed to die a painless death and forgotten about, but Willmott has a penchant for explaining his own bad jokes, you know, just in case you don’t know that a ‘Commie’ and a ‘Red’ are the same thing circa 1920. This happens more than once.
Also, a Robby the Robot-esque sidekick bot imbued with the personality of a old Southern racist named Strom isn’t the worrsssttt idea, but why did he have to sound like Foghorn Leghorn screaming into a cheap PC mic?
Give the choice, I’d rather let a Terminator roam free.
This seems weird to complain about at first, but… the production values. It’s not so weird to complain about when we reach the present day in glorious… color, and the sound is still cheap and tinny, and all that color reveals the 90s camcorder vibe of the cinematography. The at first amusingly broad acting really starts to wear at that point as well, and the less said about the extras, the better.
Your average porn pizza deliveryman has all but about 6 of these actors beat.
Destination: Planet Negro has an admirable satirical high concept, but flubs the execution pretty badly. Next time see if Spike will direct, Mr. Willmott.
Destination: Planet Negro (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each new African-American leader seen or name-checked
Take a Drink: obviously, whenever you hear “Planet Negro”
Take a Drink: for terrible Spanish
Take a Drink: for people who inspire hope
Do a Shot: whenever Strom the racist robot annoys the hell out of you