Take My Strong Hand
At 9:30 P.M ET on Sunday April 15th, 1990, 20th Century Fox premiered a sketch comedy television series created by one Keenan Ivory Wayans called In Living Color to American audiences. Five days before the show’s debut, Public Enemy released the studio album Fear of a Black Planet through Def Jam Records. That a fiercely militant, unabashedly angry and not particularly radio friendly hip-hop album hit the Top 10 on the Billboard chart and sold more than a million copies in the first two months on record store shelves was a pretty decent indicator of the tenor of the moment.
The first episode of In Living Color aired mixed material from the pilot—including “The Homeboy Shopping Network,” “Men on Film,” and the “Love Connection” sketch—along with pieces that had been written and produced in the weeks following the show receiving a pickup order. One of the new sketches was a commercial parody for a credit card called “Equity Express,” in which David Alan Grier is harassed and ultimately arrested because a store owner suspects he’s “not the sort of person to be carrying a gold card, if you know what I mean.” The show had a slot behind two hit American comedies, The Simpsons and Married… With Children. The episode was seen by nearly twenty-three million viewers, a gargantuan premiere that outstripped the network’s most optimistic projections. It was a hit. An overnight sensation. America was laughing together, and Keenan was rightfully pleased with the debut. “Everything lined up right,” he says “All the stuff I wanted to try worked. The sketches were funny and we were making fun of people no one had made fun of before. The dances didn’t look weird in the context of a sketch show. The hip-hop music didn’t throw you off. It was different than anything you’d seen on TV.” This was just the beginning.
Take My Strong Hand: A Wayans Brothers Retrospective is a calling to look to the legacy that Keenan Ivory Wayans and his family fostered for American audiences on the silver screen in the decades to follow. It stems from a simple sentiment; the joy felt of laughing with a group of strangers in a dark theater. Following the four year and five season run of the show, Keenan went on to grace us with films that would take everyday taboos and flip them on their head. It was a time when everyday people could come together in the theater and just laugh at what we now deem too dangerous to merely discuss. These movies are equally as brainless as they are tactful. “We were just young dumb and having fun,” Keenan remarks in an interview discussing the success of the sketch show. “The agenda was just to be the funniest show on TV… the funniest movie in the box office.” At the time he said it, it sounded like a cop-out, a way not to have to consider the bigger questions that inherently exist in much if not all receptions of black art let alone comedic social commentary. What truly reverberates down through the ages are the sounds of the laughter. Keenan acted as the leader of the pack with a deep understanding of history while never feverishly trying to make it. He was the guy who consistently resisted the poignant in favor of farce.
With that I am extremely excited to collaborate with The Roxy and Indie Memphis in sharing some of these movies with audiences for the month of October. 35mm prints of White Chicks, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2 and Little Man at the Roxy Cinema New York and a selection of DCP screenings at the 26th Annual Indie Memphis film festival. Just for laughs. Hope to see you in the theater.
Words By Alex Huggins