1994/1995 was a mini/momentary explosion of black films and black directors in America. You had; ‘Clockers’ (Spike Lee), ‘The Glass Shield’ (Charles Burnett), ‘Dead Presidents’ (The Hughes Brothers), ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’ (Carl Franklin), ‘The Inkwell’ (Matty Rich), ‘Waiting To Exhale’ (Forest Whitaker), John Singleton made ‘Higher Learning’ and Robert Townsend made the successful transition from film to television. And most importantly, we were finally moving forward and slowly getting away from those cliche “hood” movies that all pretty much tried to copy ‘Boyz N The Hood’ (and most of ‘em copied the wrong the aspects of the film and almost glorified things that John Singleton wasn’t trying to glorify). Normally I don’t like to get caught up in sub-categorizing things like black films and black filmmakers, but when black directors are the minority in something for so long and they finally get a chance to shine (coincidentally all at the same time) its almost impossible to not notice and comment on it. But with the good comes the bad. And there were quite a few black films to come out during this “explosion” that got left behind and forgotten about because they were in fact quite bad or could have been WAY better (‘Panther’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ are a few that come to mind). But nothing was more disappointing (in my opinion) than David C. Johnson’s ‘Drop Squad’. Like a lot of people I’m not that big on remakes (even if there are a small handful of good ones that do make me eat my own words upon their release). But the subject matter in ‘Drop Squad’ is so good and so important and the actual story is so brilliant (especially for the time it came out) that I honestly feel it needs to be redone (something I’ve been talking about with a friend for quite some time). Let it be known that my intentions with this write-up are good and not meant to simply bash or hate on this film. If anything this is a form of tough love for something i care about that I know could have been better. Its such a brilliant idea and it doesn’t sit right with me that it turned out the way it did. ‘Drop Squad’ had the makings of an original: an underground group of black militants-for hire that kidnap and “deprogram” black people who are essentially a “disgrace to the race” (drug dealers, pimps, corrupt politicians, black people that are ashamed or embarrassed of their race, and of course the uncle tom/sellout). Before we actually get in to ‘Drop Squad’, you have to go back to 1988 when the seeds were planted in the form of a brilliant short feature (also directed by David C. Johnson) called; ‘The Session’ (co-starring some of the actors who later went on to appear in ‘Drop Squad’). This short satire went on to become what we know as ‘Drop Squad’.
With very little budget David C. Johnson managed to make a great film with an important message and cleverly mixed satire with social & racial issues in the form of a mockumentary. ‘The Session’ become such an underground/grassroots success in the late 80’s (years before the so-called black film explosion) that it caught the attention of Spike Lee and in 1994 it became the first film he produced. But something got lost between the short film in 1988 and the feature film in 1994. In ‘Drop Squad’ Eriq Lasalle plays a black ad executive (“Bruford”) hurting his own race (yet doesn’t seem to care) by making derogatory, racist and stereotypical advertisements aimed at the black community. These ad campaigns include everything from over the top fried chicken commercials to malt liquor billboards placed all over black neighborhoods. Outside of work Bruford is also ashamed of his large family and makes quite a few comments in the film that just scream self hate. He’s constantly confronted by his sister (“Lenora”) who seems to be the only one who can see how messed up and lost he is yet she cant seem to get through to him.
Finally Lenora hires the drop squad (who operate out of a fast food restaurant) to “drop” him. To “drop” someone means to essentially put them through a clockwork orange-esque detox/deprogramming where they show him images of slavery, black struggle, black history and perform spook tactics and other psychological abuse to snap the subject back to reality and make them see the error in their ways. One of the main issues i had with this film was that it couldn’t make up its mind as to whether or not it wanted to be a drama, dark comedy or satire. Now of course no movie has to be tied down to one category but in the case of ‘Drop Squad’ it felt a little schizophrenic. You find yourself asking: “am I supposed to be laughing at this or is it serious?” One minute we’re watching a satirical commercial within the film for fried chicken with a bunch of loud overweight black women in church robes, then the next minute we have a serious heart to heart conversation. ‘The Session’ seemed to be pretty much all satire while ‘Drop Squad’ slightly deviated from that and tried to be more serious while trying to retain a bit of the satire from the short film and it just didn’t work. When you’re dealing with satire among black issues you’re in the realm of brilliant movies like ‘Hollywood Shuffle’, ’I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’ and misunderstood masterpieces like ‘Bamboozled’ so you have to bring your A-game and ‘Drop Squad’ simply didn’t. I also thought the film was wrapped up a little quickly. There were aspects of the story that could have been expanded upon, especially the subplot dealing with the internal conflicts within the drop squad as to how they should be deprogramming people. In ‘Drop Squad’, the leader; “Rocky” (played by Vondie Curtis Hall) is butting heads with his “2nd in command”; “Garvey” (Ving Rhames) because he feels that the deprogramming tactics are becoming too brutal and harsh, while Garvey feels they need to be tough. What also could have been expanded upon was the whole idea of who gives anyone the right to do what the drop squad does (no matter how good their intentions may be), which kinda plays off that elitist mentality that some black people have over others. In my opinion these two things alone coulda added more meet to the story. Drop Squad’s heart was obviously in the right place and there were a few good elements (like the clever jab at Marion Barry and Vondie Curtis Hall’s performance). Also, this was a collaborative effort between quite a few black filmmakers (Spike Lee was the executive producer and Kasi Lemmons & Vondie Curtis Hall, who are also directors, acted in the film as well). But even with all those positive elements, I honestly think it needs to be redone. And I say redone instead of remade because in the almost 17 years since this film was released (wow! 17 years?!) there’s way worse people to attack and criticize instead of the cliche uncle tom/sellout/black man in a business suit. Between Ice Cube’s lyrical content of the early-mid 90’s and all those black comedies of the early 90’s (‘Mo Money’, ‘Strictly Business’) that prototype has become a little played out and taken enough beatings. No need to move backwards. I’d like to see characters modeled after people like Herman Cain or the black people in a high position of power at places like B.E.T. and HOT 97 “dropped” by the drop squad. But who’s man or woman enough to take on a project like this? The only director radical enough I can think of is Wendall B Harris and he hasn’t been able to get a film financed in almost 2 decades (not a criticism on him, I’m just stating a fact) and his current documentary has been in production hell for years. Furthermore what studio (major or independent) would wanna touch this story again? Even though I don’t have the nicest things to say about this movie overall I’d still like people to revisit and/or watch it if you haven’t.