Dancing In September
As an object of satire, television's treatment of blacks is at once a huge, inviting target and an inherently elusive one. After all, how could any satire convey anything more scathing about the topic than the mere existence of certain shows? The directorial debut of television veteran Reggie Rock Bythewood (A Different World), Dancing In September bears a striking resemblance to Spike Lee's ambitious but muddled Bamboozled. But where Lee's fiercely personal jeremiad against media stereotyping followed its misguided premise straight off the deep end, September follows a more cautious path before falling victim to many of the problems that plagued Bamboozled. Eschewing Lee's focus on literal minstrel shows in favor of more socially acceptable derivations, September centers on the relationship between pro-assimilation television executive Isaiah Washington and writer Nicole Ari Parker, whose identity politics frequently clash with her ambition. With Washington's help, Parker lands an ostensibly high-minded show on a fledgling network, but soon finds herself willing to compromise her commitment to defying stereotypes for the sake of staying on the air. As ratings slip, Parker and her writers resort to increasingly desperate measures, culminating in the film's finest scene, in which Parker's show devolves into a grotesque ballet of mugging, eye-rolling, and sass-talking that's all the more devastating (and funny) for its plausibility. Making its points about the dysfunctional marriage between art and commerce early and often, September stumbles periodically into the strident, ideologically loaded terrain of Bythewood's script for Get On The Bus. Still, while September doesn't have many new things to say about racism or television, it's hard to doubt the passion of Bythewood's delivery or the validity of his message.