Written and directed by Louis C.K. in 2001, Pootie Tang stars Lance Crouther playing the character Pootie Tang. There are a few things to address about this film.
Caricatures & Blaxploitaion
The characters written in this film are caricatures of Black stereotypes as well as stereotypes of women.
What is a caricature? According to the Lexico definition, a caricature is a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect. Of all the caricatures written in this film, the most controversial is that of the main character, Pootie Tang.
The superhero Pootie Tang is given power and a personality similar to characters in the 70s subgenre of film, Blaxploitation. Although Couther's character is the hero of the film, he is given dialogue that is unintelligible to the audience. For the entirety of this film, Pootie Tang speaks gibberish that is meant to be comedic but there are some issues with this creative choice to unpack.
The main character, and hero of a film, is rarely Black. A Black body was placed in this role in Pootie Tang and then his voice was essentially taken away. Thought was put into the personality and ethics of Pootie Tang but, the audience does not understand Pootie Tang, making him not much more than a mumbling joke.
Pootie Tang's voice is stolen, but he isn't mute. When Pootie Tang speaks, he speaks gibberish. This uses a Black lead as the punch line of a joke. Using gibberish as a vessel for comedy and causing the audience to patronize and mock Pootie Tang, an audience who then transfers that mockery to actual Black people.
Blaxploitation movies, for all their tropes and stereotypes, were the first mainstream films that showcased Black leads and heroes. These films did not show Black people as villains or sidekicks or Black bodies being brutalized and made into victims. They were very important in the 70s and stay important figures of Black cinema. Pootie Tang takes this history, and makes a mockery of it. The character Pootie Tang is a hero similar to a Blaxploitation lead but he speaks gibberish and his weapon of choice is a belt.
The belt and Black children being disciplined with the belt has been a long debated and discussed practice and has often been portrayed as a comical distinguishing act between Black upbringing and white upbringing. A good example of this is a scene Spike Lee's, Get on the Bus. (I wrote a post on Get on the Bus here). Pootie Tang "whoops" his enemies when he defeats them, hitting them on their behind with his belt similar to how a parent might a child.
This not only makes light of Black children's pain, it assumes that all Black parents parent the same. Black people are often seen as being monolithic, doing everything the same. This perception of Black people is problematic for a plethora of reasons.
The most problematic of all these elements is, Louis C.K., the writer and director of Pootie Tang, is a white man. His writing and directing of this film exemplify white perception of Black bodies.
*It should be noted that Pootie Tang originally appeared as a "special guest" on The Chris Rock Show
The name of this film and main character, is a play on the colloquial terms for vagina. You may recognize "pootang" or just "tang" and"pootie" being used for cat, the animal most used as a symbol for female energy and vaginas. The name alone sets the hypersexual tone of the film.
This film shows women constantly pining over Pootie Tang and talking about, even begging for, sex with him. This apparently started when Pootie Tang was a child and grown women would want him. The oversexualization of Black men is nothing new and this film just plays into that stereotype with the added casual mention of pedophilia. This plays into the idea that Black bodies need a function, something to offer, in order to be valued.
The movie also hypersexualizes the women in the film, namely Ireenie (played by Jennifer Coolidge) and Biggie Shorty (played by Wanda Sykes). Ireenie is called a "ho" and described as being used to "break" men and is essentially Dick Lecter's secret weapon. Not giving her any other function than pleasuring and being used by men. She also plays into a familiar trope of women stealing men's power, money and manhood by stealing Pootie Tang's secret to his power and making him sign his life away to Dick Lecter. This trope is damaging because men think this way and treat women accordingly, abusing their bodies, minds and spirits, for fear that they'll allow women to have "too much power" over them and steal from them.
Wanda Sykes' character's only goal was to get Pootie Tang into bed. She seemed to care for Pootie Tang but her care stemmed from her sexual attraction to Pootie Tang. There is also a scene where Sykes' character, Biggie Shorty, is mistaken for a prostitute and a man is making animalistic noises at her, asking her how much money it would take for her to "do" both him and his friend. Biggie Shorty then informs them she is not a prostitute, asks why they would assume that and then promptly smacks the man howling at her with her purse. This scene is meant to comedic because Biggie Shorty is standing on the side of the street near other prostitutes but it raises a conversation about the very real, non-comedic, way men assume women will have sex with them and, sometimes even, also their friends. This scene addresses men's disregard for women's bodies, viewing women as toys of pleasure.
Corporate America & Capitalism
For all its problematic scenes, Pootie Tang, does address a very serious issue. It shows the connection between Corporate America, capitalism and health, poverty and the effects of these things on the Black community.
At the start of the film, Pootie Tang's Black community looked up to him and as a result cared for their health and lives. They didn't consume drugs and alcohol and stayed away from fast food. In this way, Pootie Tang served as the shield between capitalism and Black people. After Dick Lester, representing Corporate America, bested Pootie Tang, health in his community declined and drug use went up. This shows the direct connection between capitalism and health and how the greed involved in a capitalistic country, such as the U.S., leads to depleted resources and poor health choices forced onto communities, especially those in lower-income areas.
The greed within Corporate America and capitalistic societies also leads to poor decisions in how food is made and what grade food becomes more easily available to lower-income families. This problem is shown in Pootie Tang through Dick Lecter's burgers, which he even admits in the film that he pumps with MSG, making it addictive to consumers.
Now, I understand that this film is a comedy, you could even go as far as calling it socio-political satire. So, a scope this narrow may not feel necessary to watch a film like this but I would argue that it is. Even in a film like this, elements like cultural history, portrayal of characters and who the writer/director is, are crucial. This slapstick-like humor actually has a lot of underlying social issues woven within the script and as we've talked about perpetuating stereotypes on-screen can be damaging but what may be even more hurtful than that, is making light of these issues and writing them as something people should laugh at and not take as seriously and address.
A lot of people love this movie and there were parts that I genuinely laughed at! I'm analyzing this film as a whole piece and its possible impact on communities and social identities of people in those communities. There is no good or bad in film, but there is analysis and impact.
There are other scenes and characters to be analyzed in this film. Using the scope of this post, what else do you notice about Pootie Tang?