Movie review – Schuks! Schuster profits from old racial stereotypes

2013-12-01 14:00

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Leon Schuster is back on the cinema circuit with yet another prank-filled movie. This one’s titled Schuks! Your Country Needs You.

The truth is if you’ve seen one of his movies, you’ve seen them all. They all involve Schuster and his troop of funnymen dressing up in disguises to trap unsuspecting individuals in candid camera situations. The results are often hilarious, as they should be.

But there’s a more insidious theme that runs through Schuster’s project.

It is carried in how his sketches rely on and reinforce an old stock of racial stereotypes that have their morbid roots in minstrel shows of old.

Schuster’s work continues a tradition that involves characters of blackface minstrels who’ve played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions of black people worldwide.

Schuster may not be serving us troops of white guys using burnt cork or shoe polish to darken their skin, complete with exaggerated thick red lips with woolly wigs, gloves and tail coats, but he might as well be.

The tradition of displaying blackness for the enjoyment and entertainment of paying viewers dates back at least to the 15th century, when captive west Africans were displayed in Portugal.

It has taken on various guises over the years, but remains very effective as a means to cement and disseminate racial stereotypes as “comic relief”.

Schuster surely did not originate the racist entertainment we know as minstrelsy, though he surely continues to profit from it. Titles like There’s a Zulu On My Stoep and Mama Jack are but two examples. In his latest film, Schuster successfully follows his tried-and-tested formula.

There’s coonery and buffoonery of a fat black guy in a suit as an incompetent politician, a cantankerous metro police officer, the fumbling fast-talking Indian man along with a dwarf sidekick. There’s a pitiful scene in which Schuster and his team prank former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers.

He has been called in for a meeting with Schuster et al, who are pretending to be Japanese rugby officials looking to hire him to coach their national team.

De Villiers, who has been flown in from Cape Town to this meeting in Joburg, wants the job badly. This is exploited by the pranksters as they throw in one ridiculous demand after another on the desperate jobseeker.

It’s almost heartbreaking to watch when he realises it’s all a joke.

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