Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No.45 : Watermelon Man

Watermelon Man at the IMDb

Jeff Gerber is a white middle aged insurance broker who lives with his wife and two kids in an affluent white suburb. He works out every morning and gets his kicks racing the bus to the office, to the annoyance of his fellow commuters. He is also a little bit of a racist. Not in a Ku Klux Klan sense, but he likes ribbing the black bus drivers and lift attendants that they may be rioters and gun toting hoods.

He is somewhat surprised when he wakes up as a black man, almost as much as his wife, who although sympathetic to blacks is less keen to be married to one. Initially Jeff is in denial and tries all sorts of potions to bleach himself white again. He also consults his doctor and thinks of suing the company who made his sun lamp.

He soon accepts the situation and has to learn to live with the sort of prejudices that he once ladled out. Things come to a head when he starts to get threatening phone calls and then a delegation from the neighbourhood requesting he leave lest their house prices suffer. It’s not all bad, as the previously standoffish Swedish secretary becomes a lot more sociable when Jeff gets some colour.

With his wife leaving him and the neighbours buying him out of his home Jeff decides to move on with his life and embrace his new heritage.

If you don’t get the message behind this film you have clearly underwent a frontal lobotomy. The characters are all such vivid shades of black and white, pun intended, that you can’t but fail to see that racism is a bad thing. When we meet Jeff he’s an amiable and likable soul but our goodwill is soon eroded as he encounters people of colour. He’s not bad as such, just crass and ignorant. When he transforms the boot is on the other foot and Whitey, to a man and woman, becomes a total bigot. It's kinda like a bit racist to say all white people are racist, isn’t it?

The film’s agenda from the off is pretty clear, and it isn’t that we’re all equal, it’s that black people are downtrodden and the whites are all bastards. This may have been fair currency when the film was made in 1970 but now it seems stupid and offensive.

There is no reason given for the transformation, although repressed genes and soy sauce are mooted as possibilities. Like ’Groundhog Day’ you just have to accept that’s how things are and not bother looking for a reason. The ‘white’ Jeff looks a bit odd and it’s obvious from the off that it’s the black actor ‘whited up’. There was probably no other way to make the film but it is certainly no surprise when the big reveal takes place after 20 minutes - the guy just looks the same. Maybe that’s the hidden message!

There were a few funny scenes such as the black Jeff walking into a shop and the assistant immediately sticking his hands up. It was also funny when Jeff went on his usual run only to be stopped by cops asking what he’s stolen.

Apart from the odd laugh the film’s message is too relentless to call this entertainment, and the jaded one sided viewpoint turned me off entirely. Jeff seems to accept his position with no trouble at all and by the end he’s training up for a revolution. If the message had been one of integration and acceptance the film would have been a lot more worthwhile. As it was it came across as bitter, nasty and just a little racist itself.

Best Bit : Chasing the bus
‘W’ Score 11/23

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