Malibu’s Most Wanted at 20: Black Culture as Food For All | Features
Respectability is defined by the suppression of any out-loud displays of Black culture, a homogenization with white expectations. “Malibu’s Most Wanted” is a satire, and so, each and every character is a caricature. It’s what these personalities, written and performed to the brink of severity, are marked by that lends an investigative eye to the inquiry of what culture actually means. PJ and Sean are caricatures of Black men on both ends of the spectrum, embodying peak respectability politics playing the role of South LA gangsters. They read Black slang dictionaries, cornrow their hair to “look urban,” and walk with a “pimp limp.” In more ways than not, they are similarly fetishizing nuggets of culture that have been fed to them by media rather than lived experience. In fact, the only truly authentic character is Sean’s cousin, Shondra (Regina Hall), who they enlist to help pull off their scheme.
Shondra winds up becoming a pawn in the ploy to get B-Rad to drop the act. Misogynoir showcases itself through her character and how everyone’s performances utilize her as a symbol. Whether it’s the sexualization of being told to “show a little ass” to aid PJ and Sean’s attempted breakdown of B-Rad or B-Rad’s fetishy “I’ve never been with a real Black girl before,” we are introduced to her as an object of male gaze and intent. There’s also the ever-historical role that Black women are put in as cultural educators to their oppressors. Shondra is the only figure in the main cast of characters who isn’t espousing artifice culture-wise, but she is the one who carries all of their consequences on her shoulders.
The social shotgun of appropriation isn’t simply found in tangible measures like speech or fashion but also in the impalpable ramifications of who carries the brunt of the burden. In the film, it’s Shondra. In everyday American culture, the pain of appropriation is not the scolding experienced by white people for enacting it but the torment Black people are subjected to as they watch their identities be co-opted and costumed, fashionable only when they aren’t the subjects.
“Malibu’s Most Wanted” is a comedy irrevocably tied, both stylistically and in terms of political correctness, to its release date. The film does not take itself seriously, and while many things don’t age well, on the whole, its themes hold up where its delivery does not. The dilution and cherry-picking of Black culture through the process of white appropriation is seeing its own resurgence in the 2020s as it did in the early 2000s. Hip hop is today’s most popular music genre, and beauty trends as of late favor notably Black characteristics to the degree that “Blackfishing” is a term we’ve had to coin to describe its gravity.