Rhys Ifans vs. ‘The Voodoo Mama’

The Welsh actor Rhys Ifans is best remembered (a lifetime ago now) as Hugh Grant’s fictional roommate in “Four Weddings and a FuneralNotting Hill” And he has a decent career in Hollywood, so it was a surprise to see him pop up in the “short film” on Youtube: “Rhys Ifans vs. The Voodoo Mama.”

For some background, we have the Youtube description of the film: “This laugh out loud comedy is a battle of the sexes at a ghetto bus stop, where a Voodoo Mama (Bilonda Mfunyi) destroys the family jewels of a sexual bully (Rhys Ifans) by using Voodoo Mama Hot sauce. All is at stake in this fun battle over his balls. Do you have the balls for it?”

And there’s this from the director in an short interview with IFC:

We shot the film in a rundown, drug-ridden ghetto in Palma de Mallorca. Rhys was on vacation but was kind enough to lend me his time and talent. Rhys is so passionate about acting that when he likes a piece, I think the important thing for him is to shoot it. I mean, which actor works on their vacation? That’s real passion!

Unfortunately, the internets aren’t very helpful. Everybody just forwards it.

So as we’ve done before (the discussion of Coldplay’s “Paradise” refers) I emailed the AIAC collective, to get their opinions. First up was ‘kola.

kola: Watched it three times and apart from the vivid cinematography (and the southern belle pimping of the lady), I really did not get it … Eggs and nerdish weirdos?

Boima Tucker: So much just from the description that I can’t even talk about the film. I was in Palma this summer visiting family (a summer trip I’ve been taking my whole life) and all I could notice is how diverse it was becoming. So many mixed race-culture kids. In the 1980’s I was the only one.

Now in this film, that diversity, which is sometimes vilified in mainstream Spanish society and which should be celebrated to combat the misinformation that permeates nationally, is a site for drug-ridden ghetto films on black American southern stereotypes played out by African immigrants and Northern Europeans on holiday.

Megan Eardley: Our protagonist doesn’t like the creep greasy white guy licking chocolate like that so she grabs a white balled object and, voodoo magic–one object stands in for another, she bites his balls off. Who is this fun for? How am I going to put hot sauce on egg products now? But Boima, just think of the branding opportunities–Voodoo Mama, as American as Aunt Jemima.

Neelika Jayawardane: This film is what I’ll be showing next time some random Euro says in wide-eyed wonder, “Why did you choose to live in America? They are so racist there!”

Tom Devriendt: Looks like it was shot in Corea (the neighbourhood), but it might as well be any other rundown, neglected part of any other city. Belgian-born Bilonda Mfunyi-Tshiabu also has a singing career.

Boima Tucker: Corea is a walking distance away from my Abuela’s house… I don’t think I’ve been there before though. I stand corrected on assuming Ms. Mfunyi-Tshiabu was a local hire, while Mr. Ifans was purely on vacation. Perhaps she was on vacation too.

Here’s a brief bio on the director, not to pick on him personally, but it’s interesting that he’s an American-Austrian born and raised in Mallorca and trained in San Francisco and Philly.

Even though it definitely could have taken place anywhere, I still think the context in which it was made matters. The director is a young Mallorquín. He’s got Austrian and American parents in a place that’s always existed on the crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa. Today, they’re going through an identity crisis as Germans and Brits buy whole villages for vacation homes and Africans, Latin Americans, and Chinese workers come in to build them or sell them tourist trinkets. Their children grow up as Mallorquín-Spaniards and change the definition of what that means in a nation that has been trying to understand itself for centuries. Older people who lived through Franco and only spoke their local language behind closed doors now wonder why in the wake of the economic crisis, the immigrants can’t just go home.

True, all these stories could be repeated anywhere in the world, but this is how this one director chooses to express himself in this contemporary globalized context. He frames this expression using some of the same techniques that White Americans developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to deal with their fears of cultural domination by the newly freed African descended Americans. Perhaps the film isn’t that racist, and it may not matter that it takes place in Mallorca, but it takes place in Mallorca. If it was made in say… San Francisco’s “drug-ridden” Tenderloin neighborhood, I imagine it would have come out different?

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