“She’s Got a Plan”, from independent filmmakers Fatima Washington and Corey Johnson, is an unabashedly feminist take on Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayan’s 1987 “Hollywood Shuffle”, which offered a comical but searing indictment of Hollywood and its treatment of black actors and directors. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of Townsend’s film, Washington and Johnson’s work poses the question: has anything changed?
“She’s Got a Plan”, shot in Los Angeles, is part of the opening weekend line-up of the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) Feb. 9-20 in Los Angeles.
The cast includes Washington and co-star Paula Jai Parker, and features Golden Brooks, Kelita Smith, Charles Malik Whitfield, Johnny Three Nutz, Mark Sande, Leonard Robinson, Sandra Staggs, and comedians Faizon Love and Chris Williams. PAFF co-founder Ja’net Dubois also appears.
Washington plays Isis Angelo, a struggling director who crashes into every barrier to entry that mainstream Hollywood often puts up, ranging from the casual sexism of powerful studio executives, to the more existential choice of whether to sacrifice your artistic integrity in order to pay the bills.
Parker brings her trademark high-energy to the role of Rhonda, Isis’ best friend and neighbor, a blue collar employee who wears a uniform. When Isis complains about not being able to snag a directing gig, Rhonda pointedly reminds her: she can always give up and join her as a meter maid. This prompts Isis to come up with an ambitious plan to kick-start her career in 30 days.
In a memorable scene between Isis and TV personality Tanika Ray, we see Isis morph into a soul-less Hollywood director who’ll do anything for money and fame, only to be attacked by Ray during an on-air TV interview for becoming a sell-out. There’s also a hilarious turn by Whitfield as Isis’ handsome but germ-obsessed boyfriend “Hollywood”, who metaphorically represents everything that’s wrong with the industry.
Johnson, who studied at UC Berkeley and Chaminade University of Honolulu, and Washington, a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, co-directed and co-produced the film through their production company Hella Hella Dreams Filmworks, a nod to their Oakland, California roots.
Washington acknowledges that they went for the laughs, casting well-known funny guys like Love and Williams. But she says the film contains an underlying message to viewers.
“Drama is important, but I have always said that what makes a joke funny is that there is truth in it,” she says. “I learned that first-hand watching Keenen Ivory Wayans working behind the scenes on ‘In Living Color’. Like Robert Townsend’s ‘Hollywood Shuffle’, I was struck by the comedy, but more so by the truth.”
“The best thing about comedy is that we can vent our frustration in a way everybody can feel, which is the human reality of life’s up-and-downs,” Johnson adds. “And when it comes to race issues, you can use comedy and build it into a learning tool.”
Johnson’s background includes performing as Sunspot Jonz of the Living Legends hip hop crew. He pitched in with the film’s soundtrack and also appears as character Angel Vasquez.
Washington says she’s seeking “authenticity” in her work, and believes it’s important for women to write and direct their own stories. She’s encouraged by the mainstream success of black female writer-directors like Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s “Insecure”.
“Thank God for ‘Insecure’ and Issae Rae,” Washington reflects. “I loved ‘Sex and the City’ but no one was broke on that show, everyone’s bills were paid, buying Manolo Blahniks and getting laid all the time. It wasn’t real but that’s all black women had.”
“As a black female director, writer and performer, my mission is to empower women through comedy,” she adds. “The lens I’m using is female characters who aren’t perfect and who don’t have it all together, and at the same time approach every scene with an intuitive gaze that is rooted in a much broader lens, that our basic humanity connects us all.”
“She’s Got a Plan” will screen at the Pan African Film Festival on Friday, February 10th at Rave Cinemas at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (4020 Marlton Avenue in Los Angeles) at 8:15 pm, and also on Wednesday, February 15th at 4:05 pm. For more information and tickets: www.paff.org.