Indie Classics | Drop Squad

23 06 2012

Spike Lee has always been a provocative filmmaker who translated his experiences into memorable and indeliable images of African-Americans. One of the films put his name on was drama examining class warfare in the Black community, Drop Squad.

The film centers on an advertising executive, Bruford Jamison (Eriq La Salle) who is in charge of the “minority development division” for an advertising agency. Among the ad campaigns he is involved with is one for a malt liquor called “Mumblin’ Jack”, whose billboard depicts a woman in a skimpy bikini straddling a bottle, with the slogan “It Gits Ya Crazy!”

Another ad campaign depicted in the film is a commercial filled with racial stereotypes (in which Spike Lee has a cameo) for a fried chicken restaurant’s Gospel-Pak, which offers a Bible verse printed on every napkin. Bruford’s sister Lenora (Nicole Powell) calls in the Drop Squad to deprogram him. Bruford winds up being subjected to three weeks of psychological and physical brutality. Among the other persons who are shown being subjected to the deprogramming are a corrupt politician and a drug dealer.

Based on director David C. Johnson’s short film, The Session, this story which attempted to examine the struggle among educated African-Americans who were interested in assimilating and leaving their culture behind and those who were secure in their blackness and were seen as detriments to the race.

Featuring a bevy of actors who would become recognizable names, nevertheless Drop Squad was a box-office failure. The film failed to crack a million dollars at the box office. While it failed to capture an audience in 94, the film is notable for it’s cast including LaSalle, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Williams, Kasi Lemmons and Vondie Curtis Hall.

Lee, who executive produced the film, would create his own satire that explored similiar themes in Bamboozled, which would receive a better reception. The film reveres those who respect their culture and blackness while frowning on those who lose themselves chasing the American Dream.

Maybe this thoughtful, provocative story got lost among the hood films or glitzy big-budget Black stories of the ’90s or it could have been ahead of it’s time. Either way, Drop Squad may have been an economic failure but revisting the story almost two decades later, there is a great idea that may not have been executed properly.

The film message that none of us got where we were without help from those who came before may have been lost on the audience but as one character implores to another, “come back, brother” and give this film another look!

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