When Augustans found out that a James Brown movie was being made, we were ecstatic. James Brown was still alive then and Spike Lee was hired to direct the film. Little did we know that James Brown’s life would be cut short on Dec. 25th, 2006. After Brown’s death, a free for all occurred with messy litigation ensuing. The rights to the movie were in limbo for some time, but finally Mick Jagger and Brian Grazer stepped in to make the movie a reality. Spike Lee was out as the director and Tate Taylor was brought in to direct. It was then that Augusta found out that Get On Up would not be shot in Augusta. All shooting locations were to be shot in director Tate Taylor’s home state of Mississippi. Furthermore, Augusta wondered if we would be left out altogether. With all these mixed emotions concerning the film I decided to lay out The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Get On Up.
The Good: (The acting, particularly that of Chadwick Boseman/Better understanding of the complexities of James Brown) The movie started off with one of the funniest scenes of the whole movie. Many who know the events in the life of James Brown can recall the incident where somebody was using his bathroom at his building here in Augusta. It is unclear whether Mr. Brown was mad because someone used his bathroom or because they forgot to spray some air freshener after they did their business. But the whole situation is overblown when Mr. Dynamite gets his shotgun from his truck. It was the beginning of the end for Mr. Brown when he put a bullet hole in the roof. This led to a two state chase from Augusta to Aiken, S.C., where Mr. Brown’s truck was riddled with bullets. It was later discovered that Mr. Brown was high on PCP while this was all going on. Chadwick Boseman absolutely kills this scene in the movie.
Watching the movie, you can’t help but come away understanding the complex character of James Brown more. Seeing the turmoil in his early life and how his mother and father abandoned him really drives home the point of why he was so resilient. Seeing the domestic violence between his mother and father and then later between him and his second wife Dee Dee, played by Jill Scott, one can only wonder if it was a learned behavior by Mr. Brown. A troubled childhood is no excuse for violence towards women, but it does give some context to the situation.
Most of those men and women that we put on a pedestal are complex figures. They have their great moments and their not so great moments. Brown is no different. Those people that he hurt the most have forgiven him and recognize his greatness and good qualities. They choose to focus on the good that he did for the community and the healing that he brought to people of all colors. They still give turkeys and toys to the unfortunate in Augusta in his name during the holidays. In addition, his daughter Deanna has founded J.A.M.P., which is a music academy for local Augusta children. Many of the scenes in Get On Up were well acted and exciting. There weren’t many down scenes in the movie. The dancing and musical scenes were on point and the comedic scenes were too. I encourage everyone to check out Get On Up weather you like James Brown or not.
The Bad: (Not shooting the movie in Augusta/leaving out crucial people and episodes in JB’s life/poor screenwriting and directing.
If JB were alive, he never would have let them shoot the movie entirely in Mississippi. The scenes that were supposed to represent the CSRA, looked nothing like this area. I understand director Tate Taylor wanting to help out his hometown, but his main concern should have been making the best movie possible.
Glaring omissions: One of the biggest ones was the cape man Danny Ray being missing from the film. I got a chance to speak with Danny Ray at the Augusta Red Carpet event and he was just as surprised as the rest of us as to why he was left out. He was J.B's cape man and emcee for 46 yrs. He mentioned that it was a lot of things that the people making the movie probably didn't know about James Brown because they never consulted him. Another glaring omission is that of J.B.'s third wife Adrienne. She was a big part of his life and died tragically due to complications from plastic surgery. (like Kayne West's mother) James Brown's son as a result of that marriage Darryl Brown was recently interviewed and he agreed with Ray. Darryl felt it was a travesty that Ray wasn't in the movie and also stressed that many people who knew Brown intimately were not consulted, including him. Other notable figures left out: Mr. Bobbit, JB’s longtime manager, Fred Wesley, his longtime band director, and Al Sharpton, his longtime friend and confidant.
Breaking the fourth wall: For those that don't know, breaking the fourth wall is when a character interacts with the audience that’s watching the movie. Several times J.B. looks at the audience and narrates the movie. This takes away from the seriousness of the film. It's no big secret that this movie will be compared to Jamie Foxx’s portrayal in the movie Ray. While I loved Chadwick Boseman in this film and hope he gets an Oscar, I can't help but thinking that the cheesy nature of the film may hurt his chances. It would be one thing for Boseman to break the forth wall during comedic scenes, but he does this during some dramatic moments.
The Ugly: (Black involvement was very thin) When Spike Lee was originally cast as the director of the JB biopic; many wanted him to give JB the same treatment that he gave Malcolm X. When Lee was no longer involved, many thought another black director would be cast to tell the story of one of the most influential black people in America. That didn’t happen. Mick Jagger took over to team with producer Brian Grazer and director Tate Taylor, an all-white team. Not only that, but they also chose two British screenplay writers and all the story writers were white. Were there not any competent black writers to add to the team who could have added some authenticity to the film? Would an addition of credible black writers make Get On Up a better film? Yes and yes are the answers to both questions. How did the film do at the box office? As of this writing, the film has yet to break even on its budget of 30 million. It has grossed 23.7 million dollars as of Aug. 11th.
I will stop short of telling people not to see the movie because it lacks authenticity. I will say, just see the movie so you can join in the conversation. Ultimately, I hope that another biopic of JB is made with black involvement and is shot here in Augusta. After all, how can you make a movie about Soul Brother #1 and not have any soul brothers or sisters on the writing team? That’s like talking loud and sayin’ nothing!