Movie Magazine International

American Pimp

USA - 1999

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

I've begun to wonder why Hollywood even bothers to create characters and storylines when low-budget documentaries are delivering far more compelling goods just by letting life speak for itself. The Hughes brothers, who tasted success in the feature realm with "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents" must have realized this when they set out to chronicle the life of the street pimp in their new film "American Pimp."

The trick in most documentaries dealing with illegal social underbellies is getting subjects to talk. That's no problem here. The pimps are all about their patter. They dress the way they do because they revel in their visibility. You imagine the Hughes brothers showing up with a camera and microphone and the pimp nearly jumping out of his thousand dollar gators with joy.

You might also imagine both the pimps and the Hughes brothers wanting to clear up misperceptions and stereotypes about this, the second oldest profession. But if you envision street pimps as black men with names like Fillmore Slim, Charm, and Bishop Don Magic Juan, all decked out like peacocks, sporting more jewelry than Liberace, driving huge gaudy cars, and manipulating, sometimes abusing vulnerable young women for cold, hard cash…’d be right. Not only were those street hustler caricatures from 1970s Blaxploitation films and TV's Starsky & Hutch close to the mark, some pimps freely cite them as inspiration.

Sartorially splendid and verbally gifted, it's impossible not to have a hilarious first reaction to these American pimps. After 90 minutes of life on the prostitution tracks of Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Honolulu the viewer may be recoiling, but not the pimps. "I'm a junkie and my fix is money" one explains. Another points out that Madison Avenue, using sexy women to sell products, is by definition pimping. Another tosses out the cold reality that the street remains the only place in America where blacks are in control. Some have gotten out of the game. Some stay in. A pimp named Rosebudd has gone into telemarketing and supports a family, but remains wistful about the old days. One pimp finishes the film in prison. But none offer any apologies for their choice of lifestyle. Given the same options, they wouldn't change a thing.

Because these men are human and entertaining, their patter self-promoting, and their efforts seemingly rewarded, I'm sure someone will bust the Hughes brothers for glorifying the pimp and promoting an embarrassing stereotype. But the brothers have done the right thing by letting life speak for itself in this excellent documentary. And if you can't read between the lines in "American Pimp," you'd probably be more comfortable with scripted fiction anyway.

© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 6/14/00

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