The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Soul Man’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Soul Man.”

The info:

The Movie: “Soul Man ”

Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross

Director: Steve Miner

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) To achieve his dream of attending Harvard, a pampered teen poses as a young black man to receive a full scholarship.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 14 percent

Our take:

Froemming: Last week, we visited one of the best elements of the 1980s with “The NeverEnding Story,” with its charm, wonderment and goodwill that has lasted decades.

This week, I decided to visit the flipside of that coin with a movie so awful, gross and written with such bad intentions, I’m surprised we were even able to rent it on Amazon without being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I picked “Soul Man,” a movie in which a rich, white, privileged young man poses as an African American to steal a scholarship from minorities so he can go to Harvard Law School.

Holy (REDACTED). Note to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, black face was never acceptable, not even in the 1980s, this movie proves that without a doubt.

Brown, while I weep in the shower to try and forget we watched this, what are your first thoughts?

Brown: We suck for reviewing this. It’s (REDACTED) Black History Month and I am beyond uncomfortable.

I knew going in that I would not like this movie. “Soul Man” is constantly reviled for its use of blackface and essentially destroying C. Thomas Howell’s movie career.

I can’t even say this movie was a product of its time. The ‘80s had a lot of terrible things, but I think blackface was universally regarded as a bad idea back then. Or so I thought until I saw Ralph Northam’s med school yearbook featuring young adults who should know better.

But actually watching this garbage movie?! There’s part of me that wants to write in all caps over how angry I am after viewing this. I want this movie scrubbed off my Amazon account and out of my brain.

At the risk of playing my hand early and hurting our readership here, I will not be recommending this movie.

While I try to channel my rage, you go ahead and start this atrocity, Froemming.

Froemming: It’s the 1980s and everything sucks. We meet Mark Watson (Howell), a burgeoning young alcoholic (based on the countless liquor bottles we see in his bedroom) and rich white kid who finds out that he and his best buddy (and future OJ Simpson defense lawyer) Gordon are both accepted into Harvard Law School.

Now, the first 20 minutes of this movie gives us a glimpse of being young, white, rich and on one’s way to going to the Supreme Court (it is basically the book “Less Than Zero,” minus the porno-snuff film). It is also what I imagined what Brett Kavanaugh’s life was like at this time, minus PJ, Tobin and Squee.

Brown: Oh, I had written in my notes that the start of this movie was Paul Ryan’s college experience, where he bragged about wanting to reform Medicaid since he was waiting in line at the keg.

All the characters, especially Mark and Gordon, are extremely unlikable. And that’s before any blackface was incorporated in this movie!

While white privilege is oozing out of Mark’s pores, he gets a curveball thrown his way: Dad isn’t going to pay for him to go to Harvard. Apparently, he had a breakthrough in therapy that told Dad that he should treat yo self. And he does this by taking Mark’s trust fund and buying a timeshare in the Poconos.

Seeing a rich kid get denied money isn’t exactly a way for me to empathize with Mark, movie.

Froemming: Oh, I was all about his dreams being shattered, much like I really enjoyed watching rich white kids get scammed in those Fyre Fest documentaries.

Mark goes through how to pay $53,000 for three years at Harvard Law School (just to show you how much college has gone up, that is what I paid for four years at St. Cloud State University when I graduated in 2010). He can’t get a loan (BS, I got a loan and I had terrible credit). There are no scholarships for rich white kids (BS, there are so many scholarships out there it blows my mind and now I regret my $50K bill when I probably could have gone for those).

Brown: I’d like to think that maybe in the ‘80s, student loan practices weren’t as predatory as they are now. But it was the ‘80s, they were probably more predatory.

Froemming: Even our future Supreme Court Justices were predatory back then. EVERYTHING was awful in the 1980s, except for “Back to the Future.”

Mark does come across a scholarship, but it is for black students. It is a quiet mention, and we get 10 minutes of nonsense of him trying to convince his dad’s doctor (played by the dad from “ALF”) to tell his father to pay his college, only for the doctor to go near-Patrick Bateman on him because he was stupid enough to spoil his own children.

By the way, this movie is really, really bad before blackface enters the picture.

Brown: Every person up to this point that’s been introduced could be the villain at a ski resort.


Brown: I imagine every character here posts daily about how much they hate snowflakes on Facebook.

So with his options running on empty, all of a sudden, we see someone give Mark a scholarship… and he shows up in blackface.

… Damnit …

There’s no struggle with the decision. No will-I-or-won’t-I moment. No one thinking “Hey dude, bad idea.” Mark just does it, no explanation.

Yes, in the next scene, he tells us that one of his friends who wants to work in skin care has pills that darken your skin and Mark overdoses on said pills … Let that absurdity sink in for a second. Also, how does Mark all of a sudden also have a jheri curl?

Spoken like a true privileged white asshole (yeah, I’m not REDACT-ing that), Mark shows no remorse for stealing money from an exclusive African-American scholarship and talks about how it’s the Cosby decade (a line that did not age well) and how America loves black people.

Mark, it’s 2019, and unfortunately, I can’t say that America loves black people. I doubt that was the case in the ‘80s.

Also, you’re going to school in the Boston area. Know what town has a reputation for racism? Boston.

Froemming: Gordon talks him into it by saying four people out of LA get accepted into HLS, what are the chances one would be black? Holy (REDACTED). Both Mark and Gordon are the worst.

So these two dingdongs head off to college and rent an apartment owned by another idea this movie put forward and I will never forgive: Racist Leslie Nielsen. Man is a goddamn national treasure and we see him as a monster here.

(REDACTED) you, movie.

Brown: It really makes you look at that Drebin/Nordberg relationship in “Naked Gun” under a different light, doesn’t it? You know, besides the whole OJ alleged murder thing.

Froemming: I’m too angry to even think about that.

Anyway, they move in and young Jan from “The Office” is the daughter of Nielsen, and is attracted to Mark, WHO IS IN GODDAMN BLACKFACE!


Brown: I was hoping Jones would go full Darth Vader and force choke someone on set.

Froemming: He plays Professor Banks, who teaches criminal law and is a no-nonsense teacher and the only reason Mark picked this class was because the man is black AND MY GOD I WANT TO BURN EVERY COPY OF THIS MOVIE FROM EXISTENCE!

There is not one element of this movie that is not racist. Not. One.

Brown: I swear, this movie was written by Stephen Miller.

Froemming: Or Steve Bannon.

In class, he meets Sarah Walker (Rae Dawn Chong, who would marry C. Thomas Howell after making this and they would divorce, I wonder why). Now, he is smitten with her, but also sleeps with Jan from “The Office” (seriously seeing young Jan threw me for a loop), proving how much of a garbage person he is.

How garbage, you ask? Well, Sarah invites Mark to a Black Law Students Association meeting, which Gordon tells him is a militant group, so he dressed full Blank Panther for the occasion.  


I think this was the first of five times I wrote this in my notes:


Froemming: You know what? I am glad Howell’s career died after this. All the goodwill from “Red Dawn” and “The Outsiders” is gone after this moment. Stay out of films, Ponyboy.

Brown: In a movie where the lead is in blackface and somehow is more racist looking than Mr. Popo from “Dragonball Z,” the moment where Whitney (Jan from “The Office”) brings Mark to family dinner has to be the most racist thing I’ve seen in a movie. And we’ve covered “Con-Air” on the JOE-DOWN.

The Wonder Bread white parents are so frightened of a black man being with their daughter that they daydream of Mark as a:
– Savage who wants to rape and/or kill white women

– A pimp

– In the case of Whitney’s brother, (REDACTED) Prince.

And that is coming from a movie where we’ve seen a black militant parody, a (REDACTED) five-minute basketball montage where Mark is upsetting everyone because he’s black and not good at basketball, has two characters whose literal roles are to make racist jokes around Mark AND Mark trying to do a Ray Charles/Stevie Wonder blind head bob.

This movie might be more racist than “Birth of a Nation.”

Froemming: Remember when you called Prince a “purple little jerk” in the “Purple Rain” review?

Brown: I don’t recall but I do remember that character being kind of a jerk.

Froemming: Yes, this was the most racist thing I have seen in a movie since Edward Norton’s racially charged diatribes in “American History X,” so this movie is breaking all sorts of “making me uncomfortable” moments in life.

Now, Mark’s grades in class are not great, because he is not only unworthy of the scholarship he conned his way into, he is not worthy in general of going to this school. He seems as bright as a high school student from Meat Ranch High in “Bring It On.”

So he wants to study with Sarah, who has zero interest in him because he just sucks. His jokes in class are so bad, I swore James Earl Jones went meta when he said if he is to disrupt the class with jokes, they should at least be funny.

This movie is labeled as a comedy, but there are zero laughs in it.

Brown: Something else I want to mention as well: None of this was ever necessary.

Yes, Harvard is a prestigious school. Nevermind that its most famous alum, Bill Gates, was a dropout. Also, Conan O’Brien went there, and that’s pretty cool.

Froemming: Well, its most famous alumni would be President Barack Obama. I miss that guy.

Its most embarrassing/haunting alumni? Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz, the Zodiac Killer!

Brown: And, I’m using 2018 figures in this instance. But, Harvard isn’t even the best law school in the (REDACTED) Ivy League! That goes to Yale. I guess Mark didn’t want to have the boorish manners of a Yalie.

But, Harvard isn’t even the second-best law school. That goes to Stanford. Which is in California. Where Mark lives and would probably get in-state tuition.

Hell, why not go to UC-Berkeley, which is a top 10 law school? Yeah, your MAGA ass would be at one of the most liberal schools in the country, but you could stick it to them later in life.

But no, you NEED Harvard, which necessitated your plan to dress in blackface when you could have, I don’t know, taken a year off, made some money and then gone to Harvard while not setting civil rights back 30 years?!



OK, I think we’re going in a little hot here. Let’s get back to this dumpster fire of a movie.

After ditching his first study date with Sarah so he could be with Whitney, the two of them with their grades in need of being bumped up, decide to study together.

And we get a study montage, one of many odd and pointless montages in this film. And Sarah starts falling for Mark, because the script demanded it.

Also, Mark starts dealing with the daily crap minorities go through every day: Racist jokes, police harassment, drunk Bostonians beating the snot out of him in a jail cell, ect.

But he isn’t black, so besides the beatdown he gets in jail, how can he really relate? He could have gotten away from the cop by giving him his license and telling him about the tanning pills. The racist jokes? They are bad, for sure, and insulting, but he hasn’t had a lifetime of those jokes at his expense. Again, HE IS WHITE.

Brown: This movie tries to play it both ways by showing the problems that black people deal with.

But movie, you can’t do that when you’ve spent the first 40 minutes of this (REDACTED) movie making light of black people and drowning your audience in bad racist humor. It’s so (REDACTED) tone deaf. Nothing Mark does or experiences is redeemable when the entire point of the movie is him stealing from black people!

Move over, “SLC Punk 2,” you are no longer the worst movie we’ve watched on the JOE-DOWN.

Froemming:  Mark also finds out the scholarship he is using would have gone to Sarah, had he not being a giant monster of a human being.

Now we get to the big mix up when his parents, Sarah and Whitney all show up at his apartment. It is not funny, it is not amusing, we see his dad is a huge racist, and because the landlord sees Whitney sneaking out Mark’s bedroom window, he and Gordon are evicted.

Brown: Mark also thinks the way to curry favor with Sarah is to say The Beach Boys suck. Dude, you can be black and like The Beach Boys. They are a catchy band.

Also, this movie has Leslie Nielsen commit a hate crime by punching Mark in the stomach for being black.

Froemming: In all honesty: The Beach Boys do suck.

Brown: Why are you the way that you are, Froemming?

Froemming: Because you have to have a tin ear to think “Kokomo” is a good song, and Brian Wilson is overrated in every sense of the word. Change my mind.

Instead of coming clean to James Earl Jones, he accepts the man’s offer to be a part of some council. Because move over Jimmy Carter, Mark is history’s greatest monster.

So Gordon and Mark come up with a plan to expose his lies to everyone: A Mock Trial with Judge Reinhold!

Brown: Also, by ripping off the trial scene from “Animal House.”

Before Mark reveals himself as a white man, Gordon makes an impassioned plea about Mark being a man that was forced to make a decision because of societal injustice.

… OK, deep breaths … In and out …



Froemming: My response to Gordon’s speech is this:

Also, that is my response to this whole movie.  

Mark shows everyone he is, in fact, white and goes to James Earl Jones’ office to talk about the atrocious thing he has done.

But not really. JEJ says he learned the one lesson he couldn’t teach him: What it is like to be black.

My message to this movie:

Brown: James Earl Jones should have gotten up and choked C. Thomas Howell like he was Christoph Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds.”

Movie, Mark has no idea the struggles of black people. Like he said, he could stop taking his tanning pills and he could go back to a life of comfort. He can try to make amends all he wants but what if he was never caught? He’d keep up this lie until he graduated law school, all while defrauding a black scholarship fund.

All the while, Mark is forgiven by EVERYONE! His law professor forgives him. Sarah forgives him and agrees to date him. Hell, his dad agrees to pay for college, but with a loan with interest because that’s supposed to be a punishment?!

I think this is the best way to describe how mad I was while watching this movie…

Froemming: Again, my message to this movie:

Brown, I will not be puny here. Let’s put ourselves out of this misery and go to recommendations.


Froemming: No.

Brown: This movie needs to be eradicated like it was smallpox. I’ll let Jeff Goldblum explain something to the people who made this movie:

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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