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Bojangles (2001)

aka Bojangles

Written By:  Writer details not available
Details: 101 mins · English


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Bojangles is an American biographical drama that chronicles the life of entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878–1949). This film boasts some incredible tap dance routines and a complicated, if not unique, interpretation of the main character by Gregory Hines, who also served as an executive producer.

Starting with Robinson's funeral, including what looks like archival footage of the event, the film then plays out the biography in a straightforward manner as a flashback, both in color and black-and-white.

In 1916, Robinson was a successful vaudeville performer and considered the finest tap dancer of his generation. At the peak of his career, he was the highest paid Black entertainer, but for all the joy he gave others, his life was anything but happy, there was a great deal of tragedy in himself. He died broke and penniless.

When the American Civil War was still a living memory, segregation in public facilities was the rule, rather than the exception, and all sorts of strange and arbitrary regulations were aimed at keeping people of color in a separate and inferior position. On the vaudeville circuits there was what was known as the "two-colored rule"—no solo performances for black entertainers; at least two had to be on the stage. But Robinson started in the black-face productions and shocked people when he worked as a solo act. He also starred on Broadway and was a headliner in Canada, which did not have the same issues with racism as America, and while roles for black actors in Hollywood were severely limited at the time, Robinson managed to become a recognized screen star, headlining the musical Stormy Weather and appearing in a significant number of films with child star Shirley Temple.

Robinson was a great subject for a movie biography. He loved his native New York City and gained notoriety for his generosity, performing at more of 3000 benefits, but was also a compulsive gambler and a womanizer.

Hines, arguably the greatest tap dancer of his generation,[citation needed] displays his fascination with the history of the art, but instead of creating a glorified image of the man and his work, he shows a different side of the entertainer. The best scenes of Bojangles are the dance numbers, including a memorable duplication by Hines of a filmed dance by Robinson using an up-and-down set of stairs in which Hines' step dance is repeated with the film of Robinson's, side by side. An effective supporting cast helps to keep the energy levels from flagging. Kimberly Elise is charming as Robinson's wife of 27 years, and Peter Riegert adds dimension to Marty Forkins, Robinson's loyal agent who gave up other clients–the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers—to focus on building Robinson's career. Bojangles also features Savion Glover and Maria Ricossa. All of these characters speak directly to the camera/audience at one point or another, a device that also helps vary the mostly straight-line storyline.

Furthermore, the film allows the opportunity for the audience to examine the difficulties of black entertainers back then against similar difficulties today. Bojangles was produced by Darrick Productions and MGM Television for the Showtime premium cable network.