“Afro Promo” is an entertaining collection of coming attraction trailers for black-oriented films made between 1952 and 1976. Some sociological value can be seen in how the film industry depicted and marketed its African-American talent during this period, but for the most part “Afro Promo” offers a nostalgic reminder of what made so many great films memorable – and why some films wound up in the stinkeroo bin.
There is some degree of organization here via genres (Sidney Poitier movies, blaxploitation, plantation dramas), but never mind order. The tonic is in the salesmanship, and it is somewhat surprising that the worst trailers actually belong to excellent films such as “Sounder,” “The Learning Tree” and “The Great White Hope.” Their respective trailers fail to resonate the emotion and intelligence of the films – they actually come across like prescription medicine (see it because it’s good for you).
The best trailers, not surprisingly, belong to the blaxploitation flicks. Those trailers depict wonderfully trashy, flashy and too-hip happenings that are literally wall-to-wall fun. Watching the trailers for “Blacula,” “Cleopatra Jones” and “Foxy Brown” can get anyone eager to seek out those old gems for a new viewing. Even the urban lingo of those trailers is too funny – when the narrator of the “Cool Breeze” trailer describes how the black thieves are seeking to rob “whitey’s” money, it is impossible not laugh out loud.
Some trailers also recall unapologetically bad moviemaking. Can you dare to remember the panting interracial sexual gymnastics of “Mandingo” (with boxer Ken Norton as the musclebound slave who attracts too much attention) or the hideous sitcom “Norman, Is That You?” (with Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey as bickering parents who discover their son is gay)? And what can one make of “St. Louis Blues,” with Nat King Cole supposedly playing blues godfather W.C. Handy but actually doing a killer imitation of…Nat King Cole?
And, inevitably, there are huge gaps. Dorothy Dandridge is seen briefly in the trailer for the 1952 “Harlem Globetrotters,” but her memorable film work in “Carmen Jones” and “Porgy and Bess” is absent. Diana Ross is here with “Lady Sings the Blues,” but where’s the camp classics “Mahogany” and “The Wiz”? Gordon Parks is highlighted as a director, but Melvin Van Peebles is not. And how the hell did “Shaft” and “Superfly” get excluded?
Still, “Afro Promo” is too delightful to warrant any serious anger. Shout out to the brothers and sisters on the silver screen!