Michael Cudlitz, who plays Abraham on The Walking Dead, directed this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, and I assume that is why C. Thomas Howell made an unexpected appearance as a member of The Hilltop. The two worked together on five seasons of the phenomenal series Southland, and if this storyline plays out like I expect, C. Thomas Howell will probably be little more than a glorified redshirt, killed off in next week’s episode.
I actually like C. Thomas Howell. He’s a longtime character actor, who many know for one of his first roles: He played Ponyboy in 1981’s The Outsiders. However, whenever I see C. Thomas Howell, my first association is always and immediately the 1986 comedy Soul Man. Growing up, this is a movie that played on HBO a lot, and I probably caught it more than a few times. Whenever I see C. Thomas Howell, I am reminded that Soul Man was not an insane fever dream because how was this movie real?
For those of you under the age of, say, 35, Soul Man was a movie about a white kid who wanted to get into Harvard, but in order to pay for it, he applies for a scholarship by … posing as a black man. Basically, the movie should have been called Blackface: The Movie.
Oh my God, is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
I think that the intentions of the movie — written by Carol Black, the co-creator of Wonder Years and Ellen — wanted to be in the right place? By posing as a black man, C. Thomas Howell, I guess, learns what it’s like to live as a black man and falls in love with a black woman (Rae Dawn Chong), so he can’t be racist, right? So long as your idea of a black man is, uh, this:
Holy shit, he’s actually eating watermelon, isn’t he? Who decided this movie was a good idea? How? WTF?
Anyway, the extra layer of crap-irony here is that C. Thomas Howell actually married his co-star, Rae Dawn Chong (who is the daughter of Tommy Chong, because WTF, why not?). She was probably the first crush for many an ’80s kid (I sh*t you not, she would also later discover Chris Pratt).
I should note, too, that Soul Man wasn’t a box-office flop or anything. People watched it. It was the 37th most popular film at the box office in 1986, right behind Hoosiers, and yes. The title song for Soul Man was … “Soul Man.” Also, it wasn’t hated by everyone, either. The NYTimes reviewed it favorably.
Dear God: What the hell were you smoking, 1986? And how was this OK?