Brian De Palma is an acclaimed movie director, and has been for more than 50 years. His best known films include “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Scarface,” and “The Untouchables.”
De Palma first came to attention with “Greetings” (1968). It starred Robert De Niro as a young man trying to avoid the draft. De Palma followed up “Greetings” with “Hi Mom!” (1970), in which De Niro plays the same character. This time, he’s a fledgling film maker.
“Hi Mom!” is best known for its “Be black, baby” sequence. If memory serves (I haven’t seen “Hi Mom!” in at least 20 years), this summary of “Be black, baby” is accurate:
The film’s most memorable sequence involves a black radical group who invite a group of WASPs to feel what it is like to be black, in a sequence titled Be Black, Baby. . . .[I]t features a theater group of African American actors interviewing white-skinned Caucasians on the streets of New York City, asking them if they know what it is like to be black in the United States.
Later, a group of white theater patrons attend a performance by the troupe. First they are forced to eat soul food. The white audience is then subjected to wearing shoe polish on their faces, while the African American actors sport whiteface and terrorize the people in blackface.
The white audience members attempt to escape from the building and are ambushed in the elevator by the troupe. As two of the black actors rape one of the white audience members, Robert De Niro arrives as an actor playing an NYPD policeman, and arrests members of the white audience under the pretense that they are black. . . .
The sequence concludes with a thoroughly battered and abused audience raving about the show, showering praise on the black actors, crowing “Clive Barnes [New York Times theater critic] was right!”
De Palma was prescient. Remove the rape and some of the worst abuse, and you have an approximation of how diversity trainers are teaching whites about what, supposedly, it’s like to be black in America 50 years after “Hi Mom!” During such training whites reportedly are instructed to keep silent and to “sit in the discomfort” of their racism.
Indeed, if we broaden our focus to include zones like “CHOP,” the rape and hard core abuse De Palma depicted can probably be included in the modern mix.
There are some differences between “Be black, baby” and contemporary efforts to show what it’s like to be black in America. In “Hi Mom!” those attending the performance did so voluntarily. I take it that much of the diversity training that goes on these days is mandatory.
Moreover, the government, I imagine, didn’t pay the theater troupe to put on “Be black, baby.” But according to this report, Howard Ross, the consultant who created a noxious diversity training program, has billed the federal government more than $5 million for training since 2006.
“Hi Mom!” shows that the kind of diversity training people like Ross provide is not beyond satire, after all. But it’s doubtful that De Palma’s satire in “Hi Mom!” could survive the cancel culture of today.