The very first film I can recall watching starred Steven Seagal. My dad brought Under Siege and about a dozen other VHSs back with him from a trip to the States. I was young at the time, maybe around 5, but I remember being excited as he popped it in and the family gathered to watch it. If Wikipedia-assisted memory serves me, it was about a bad-ass cook who tries to save a battleship hijacked by terrorists led by Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones. Here’s a trailer:
There really wasn’t a story – or acting, per se – and maybe that’s why I don’t remember much else about it but the scene where the stripper, his love-interest and the only person I’m certain had a vagina in the movie, bursts out of a birthday cake and sashays around seductively. As a little kid, this scene caught me entirely off-guard. Up until then, I had never once associated food and sex before, like Gordon Ramsay does everyday.
For the next several years, I felt incredibly uncomfortable having birthday cake at parties, half expecting to see bits of stripper after every bite. To this day still, I always hold my breath whenever someone cuts into pretty much any pastry. Sweeney Todd utterly terrified me; it was a phobia set to catchy music. Now that I type it, that doesn’t seem very healthy, does it?
But that aside, it was my first introduction to the magic of film. It was the first of several my family and I gathered to enjoy together. Ferngully was a favorite, if I remember, and pretty much every Disney film. I was amazed how everything could be resolved through song. I once asked an auntie of mine how everyone knew the words to a spontaneous musical number, and she would smile mischievously and say, “Because, my dear, they were all good kids. When you’re bad, you forget the words, and snakes eat you. They sing to stay alive, kiddo.” A good answer, I gotta say, though it didn’t really address my question. Around the room was a fan, always on in the corner of the room combating the charming African heat, and we would pass around kelewele and get lost in someone else’s mind for a few hours.
This was vital. Movies began as a kind of instructive escapism for me. When I first arrived in the States around six, getting used to new things like snow and ‘N Sync and America’s Funniest Home Videos and being baffled as to why people thought it was funny, the stress of deciphering a new culture was alleviated by watching it in action, often shooting at bad guys in sunglasses and never ever getting shot until the very end, and only in the arm. Sure it was idealized, but damn, man…John McClane was a G.
Of course, I was just an adorable little kid, so apart from my aunties scaring me for their own amusement by showing me Friday the 13th VIII: Freddy Takes Manhattan and Child’s Play, most of what I saw was pretty innocuous. So when I saw The Indian in the Cupboard for the first time, a film conveniently enough about a Native American periodically trapped in furniture by a nerdy white kid, I was lost in the fantasy. I remember, for an entire week after, locking and unlocking things with my army men or Power Rangers inside, hoping that when I opened the door again, they’d be real. And I was never disappointed. Because deep down inside, how fucking terrifying would that be? I certainly didn’t want my toys usurping my position as an only child, and frankly I didn’t want the responsibility of caring for new life born from plastic. What would I feed them? What would we have in common? Hell, Zordon wasn’t real, clearly, and I simply couldn’t accept the fact that a hyper-intelligent alien would pick a crew of kids whose idea of hiding their identities was to dress in the same street clothing colors as their Ranger uniforms. Besides, why couldn’t I be a Ranger?
Because my blood isn’t sparks, is why
I was a weird kid. I know that, and I still pretty much am now. And as I grew, I realized that cracking jokes comes natural when the culture around you is pretty bizarre to begin with. I was influenced by two films in particular, in developing any kind of sense of humor. The first, oddly enough, was Jumanji.
Jumanji is a terrifying film about Robin Williams and boardgames and various animals. It made me scared of Robin Williams, most boardgames, and various animals. And also Kirsten Dunst is in it, but I neither cared nor knew who she was until Spider-Man, and even today I still mispronounce her name. Technically, Jumanji wasn’t that funny. However, it taught me some very important lessons: being directly from Africa makes Jumanji significantly more ridiculous than you’d think. And also, never trust anyone who acts like, or is in fact, Robin Williams. This last rule was only reinforced when I saw Hook later, and this grown-ass man was playing Peter Pan and leading kids astray. I began from that point on to see the strange elements about fables and story tales and the like. I found the dark humor in stories like Hansel and Gretel…like did the kids end up eating the witch? They just sort of shove her in the oven like child-eating pot roast. They were clearly extremely poor to begin with, and if their parents were desperate enough to lead them into the woods to starve to death instead of…I dunno, letting them become philosophy majors and allowing it to occur naturally, there must have been quite a few domestic issues. On the plus side, Williams’ characters never really interacted with black people – except that one dude in Jumanji who gets fired covering for him – so it never really became a seriously pressing fear. Until, of course, I realized he voiced both the bat in FernGully and the genie in Aladdin and I’d been taking his advice all along, and my childhood ended and I stopped breaking into song and dance randomly like every day was a Glee episode, but just not depressingly terrible like…a Glee episode.
But this distrust was pretty short-lived. After I got older, and I found out he named his daughter Zelda because he was a nerd and a wonderful person, all was forgiven.
So my tendency to ask dark questions about random things came from Robin Williams and CGI animals. Literally everything else, from a great deal of my social habits to my love of Soul Glo, came from probably the greatest film ever made, Coming to America.
If you’ve never seen this film, SLAP YOURSELF; you’re too young. Put some Icy-Hot on your cheek, and go watch it. I wanna hear that smack. I wanna be walking to class and hear it over Gambino’s “Bonfire”. I wanna have your close friends asking what happened to your face with a concerned look. I wanna have Harvey Dent going, “Damn, your face got fucked up! You haven’t seen Coming to America before, huh?” I wanna be in the middle of a conversation, hear it, and go like this:
And do it fast before the government takes down Putlocker or zshare or something crazy like that. In fact, I’m not even going to summarize this film. It’s a damn shame if you haven’t seen it, so go watch it.
What was I talking about?
Oh yeah! If you’ve ever laughed at anything I’ve ever said or written, ever. It’s because of Eddie Murphy, who taught me imitating people is fun and educational, Dave Chappelle, who opened my eyes to how ridiculous racism is, and Jerry Seinfeld, whose show sowed the seeds of cynicism in me from a young age. But that’s all a bit off topic, isn’t it?