“Black Magic Live” – No sleight of hand [MOVIE REVIEW]
“Black Magic Live” is a peek into the only all Black male revue in Las Vegas. Tracing its origins from the hit film “Chocolate City,” the Black version of “Magic Mike,” Jean-Claude La Marre and Eurika Pratts, co-owners of the brand, tell a decent story.
Pratts segued into a career producing independent films after small acting roles. “Chocolate City” was her breakout and from that all things followed. Early on, partnering with producer La Marre, they sold a “docu-version” of their show to Lifetime that headlined Vivica Fox, a star of “Chocolate City.” When La Marre and Pratts tried taking their concept live, the show was hijacked by Fox who felt she was a co-owner.
When Fox allegedly stole the “live” concept and hired away all the dancers, La Marre sued. It is implied, but not stated, in “Black Magic Live” that they won the suit but such is not the case as it would appear that the suit is ongoing.
Eventually, La Marre and Pratts moved on with their concept, hired new dancers and found a venue on the Las Vegas Strip. “Black Magic Live” should have been a natural fit on the Strip given the previous success of Chippendales and Thunder Down Under. Although, a popular entertainment, they endured micro-aggression harassments like liquor license problems and allegations of drug influence from a business establishment uncomfortable with such a heavily Black presence. This is highly likely because, as pointed out in the film, Las Vegas was one of the last Northern cities to desegregate. Up until the 60s, Black entertainers weren’t let into the casinos where they performed and had to enter from the service entrance. Nor were they allowed to stay in the hotels where they were appearing. When Frank Sinatra famously declared that he and his group would not patronize any casino that did not allow Sammy Davis Jr. to enter, then they wouldn’t either. Slowly, and always reluctantly, the hotels began to admit Black patrons.
Pratts and La Marre eventually found a more comfortable home downtown, although scrutiny continued. Pratts was especially proud of her supervisory role and the value they were bringing to the under-served audience of Black women.
“Black Magic Live,” as Pratts and La Marre are quick to point out, is a choreographed, costumed entertainment telling a story. It is not a strip show. The dancers come to this profession from diverse backgrounds. Although Pratts highlights many of the hard-luck stories of most of the men profiled, all share a love of dance and performing.
The strengths of this documentary lie in the interviews with the dancers as they describe what the dancing and performing mean to them. Certainly they discuss their family origins, all from poor backgrounds, one dancer who spent time in prison and turned his life around, but, oddly, their backstories don’t really underline their embrace of their careers and the challenges that keeping disciplined and focused present to them. This is not to say that the stories of men from rough backgrounds aren’t interesting, but in the context of what Pratts and La Marre are presumably trying to illustrate—that there is an audience for this kind of show for a part of the population that is repeatedly ignored—seems to be a bridge too far. Perhaps that is because, despite breaking up the film into chapters, they never focus on actually telling a story.
When the men talk about dancing and what it has meant to them, the movie flies, however briefly. Listening to La Marre psychoanalyze Black men and state that Black women, over all, are very sexually repressed and “Black Magic Live” gives them an outlet to set themselves free is just too much for me to swallow. I have no way of judging whether what he says is true. I’m not Black and I don’t share race-specific experiences with Black women. But I do know that if you’re going to make such statements, you need to back them up with something to support your premise.
In general, there is way too much Pratts and La Marre and too little dancers in action; although Pratts’ story as the female co-owner of an all-male review is very interesting. The quality of the indoor filming at the show is quite poor, looking like it was taken by a customer on an iPhone in available light focusing too much on body parts. Making the case that this is a great show can only be made if you show how great the show is. But this is Pratts’and La Marre’s film in every way.
In the end, “Black Magic Live” suffers from a disjointed narrative and no direction. More’s the pity because somewhere inside this film is a cohesive story that needed a writer and a good editor. Director J.Horton just never found the right angle.
Opening September 3 via Virtual Cinema, VOD, and Digital platforms.
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