Nate Marshall on Robert Townsend… Greatest American Filmmaker?
In Conversation with Mychal Denzel Smith
on the Open Form Podcast
Welcome to Open Form, a new weekly film podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie they love, a movie they hate, a movie they hate to love. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A brand-new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed by them bringing it up.
On this week’s episode, Mychal talks to Nate Marshall about the 1991 film The Five Heartbeats, starring Robert Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon, Herry Lennix, and Tico Wells, and directed by Robert Townsend.
From the episode:
Mychal: Why’d you choose this film?
Nate: Because I think it’s time for us to start asking this most important question in my mind, and that question is, “Robert Townsend, great American filmmaker,” or “Robert Townsend, greatest American filmmaker?”
Nate: Too long have we denied the greatness that is Robert Townsend. I’m dead-ass serious.
Mychal: State your case, state your case.
Nate: Okay, so first off, a Chicago legend. You know, I’m very biased to the hometown. I think he’s uncredited, but he has a small role in—what’s that movie, Cooley High?
Mychal: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Nate: He’s in that for like a hot second as a super young dude. But then also, if you’ve ever seen Hollywood Shuffle, it’s such a dope, such a brilliant understanding of, okay, how is it that Hollywood puts Black actors and Black makers into these sort of boxes, regardless of what the complexity of that experience is? He’s able to do this stuff that is simultaneously so smart and so funny and also so heartfelt, in a way that’s just great. For me, the trilogy of films from Hollywood Shuffle to The Five Heartbeats to Meteor Man, the legend, it’s kind of unimpeachable. You can’t convince me that all those movies aren’t worth their weight in gold.
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Nate Marshall is an award-winning writer, rapper, educator, and editor. He is the author and editor of numerous works including Wild Hundreds and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective and co-directs Crescendo Literary. He is an assistant professor of English at Colorado College. He is from the South Side of Chicago.