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With: John S. Dickson, Antonio Fargas, L. Hammond, Dennis Hof, The Bishop Don Magic Juan, Max Julien, Rudy Ray Moore, Roscoe Orman, Kenny Redd, Todd Anthony Shaw, Clarence Sims, Carol Speed, Andre Taylor, Mel Taylor
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive sexual content including dialogue, strong language and some drug related material
Running Time: 87
Date: 01/01/1999

American Pimp (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Jive Talkin'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy American Pimp on DVD

I've seen a lot of documentaries since I started reviewing films, and I thought I'd seen it all.

I was wrong.

The new film by Allen and Albert Hughes, American Pimp takes us places that we never knew existed, much less that we ever thought we'd visit. More than taking a true story and making it dramatic, this movie blurs the line between real life and movies.

The twin Hughes brothers, who made the excellent Menace II Society (1993) and Dead Presidents (1995), had apparently earned enough street cred to get into some pretty dark corners; the world of the Pimp. Yes, there are pimps out there just like in The Mack (1973), but different. These pimps tell us that there are strict rules to be followed. They insist that it's a tough job. One of them tells us that "not just any kid who has seen a movie and heard a couple of rap songs can be a pimp."

The Hughes brothers interview more than a dozen pimps from all over the country, including the San Francisco pimp legend, Fillmore Slim. The main issues covered are; how to dress, how to treat a woman, how much money the 'ho gets (none), and why a 'ho needs a pimp. On the first topic, a pimp has to look good, but not square (hence the gold and the alligator shoes). A pimp must never resort to violence or fall in love. He must keep his 'hos under control with his attitude and his words alone. Apparently, the 'hos give all their money to the pimps, and the pimps take care of their worldly needs. (I suppose I was under the impression that there was some kind of percentage deal.) No clear answer is offered as to why a 'ho needs a pimp. One pimp in New York City, named C-Note, says, "a 'ho needs a pimp like a preacher needs nuns." (huh?)

I'm making this sound uninviting, but American Pimp is never less than fascinating. It even manages to be hilarious and almost inspirational at times. One pimp tells a story of when Fillmore Slim came to L.A. with seven 'hos, who were promptly stolen by other pimps. It turned out that these girls were only Slim's "second string 'hos." The first string 'hos came later and stuck by their man.

The stories turn very weird as the movie gets to the end of its 86 minutes, and it begins to let us in on 'where they are now.' Fillmore Slim, in his 70's, is still pimping. Another pimp has become a blues singer (so that he can keep his wardrobe). Gorgeous Dre is in jail, Bishop Don Magic Juan has found religion, and, strangest of all, Rosebudd now runs a telemarketing company.

American Pimp offers little in the way of other points of view, and we're not sure how much can be taken seriously. Only four prostitutes are interviewed, and two of them are not the brightest stars in the sky. Slightly more lucid is another prostitute, Jade, who works at Nevada's Bunny Ranch, run legally by a white man (who is also interviewed). The movie hints at the double standard here, but doesn't go into any depth. The film begins to discuss the history of pimping -- tracing it back to the slave days -- and how there are no white pimps, but these strands go nowhere. To top it off, "American Pimp" is laced with clips from several blaxploitation movies, from The Mack to Willie Dynamite (1974) to Foxy Brown (1974).

Strangely enough, this effort represents the Hughes brothers' revolt against Hollywood. (They reportedly made the $100,000 movie with their own money as a reaction to their time there.) But in the end, American Pimp is less a journalistic document than Hollywood entertainment, following in the footsteps of the funky anti-establishment blaxploitation movement of the 1970's. It may not be entirely factual or revealing, but it's badass and funky and a lot of fun.

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