Robert Townsend Shuffles Black History Month in Hollywood

By Jailene Adorno 

Robert Townsend is the highly-celebrated actor, comedian, director, and producer who brought audiences favorites such as Hollywood Shuffle (1987) and The Five Heartbeats (1991). This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Hollywood Shuffle, the satirical film that follows a young actor through Hollywood. It was here that Townsend made his writing, directing, and producing debut in addition to starring in the film.

“I think I became a filmmaker because I was seeing images of black people being distorted,” says Townsend. “Rather than complain, I decided to do something about it.”

Hollywood Shuffle went on to become a staple for comedy within African American culture. This was the film that pointed out racial stereotypes in the media and created commentary on how people of color have been shown to the world. Its message is still relevant in today’s culture.

When it comes to being in front and behind the camera, Townsend prefers to be behind it. This gives him the ability to control more of the story and how the audience will perceive it.

“I like directing and producing because you really get to control the story more,” says Townsend.

After spending decades in Hollywood, Townsend knows that there are many ups and downs to the business. From a directing and producing standpoint, he spoke about how there were specific stories that he wanted to tell, but they weren’t always the stories that other people wanted to hear.

“[The challenge is] telling the story you want to tell without any interference. People may not always want to tell the story you want to tell,” says Townsend.

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However, he is humbled by the fact that he was able to create something with such a huge impact on today’s generation and for generations to come.

Some of the projects Townsend is working on now include a one-hour drama and a mini-series on the Nicholas Brothers—two brothers known for their acrobatic dance moves. He is also working with Kennen Ivory Wayans on the Broadway musical script for The Five Heartbeats.

For those looking to make it big in Hollywood, Townsend advises working hard, believing in yourself, surrounding yourself with the right people, and being mindful of who you share your dreams with. He said that artists can be fragile and if not careful, someone may come along and shatter their dreams. They could discourage dreamers from going after what they truly want.

“Eagles should never hang around pigeons—eagles are born to fly,” says Townsend.

One of the greatest lessons that Townsend has learned while in Hollywood is to always go the extra mile. There are so many things that people want to pursue, but they aren’t always willing to go above and beyond to get there.

When Townsend isn’t on set, you can find him playing cards. His love of playing cards has become somewhat of a metaphor as to how he looks at life—“You never know what hand you’re going to be dealt.”

Look out for Robert Townsend in his upcoming projects!