What do critics of color have to say about “Proud Mary”?

(Photo credit: Dana Starbard/CTMG)

I bet you wouldn’t have pegged Proud Mary as the first film of 2018 to spark controversy. The issue isn’t with the film itself; its how the film has been promoted–hardly at all.

Folks on Twitter (both regular users and big folks with blue check marks) voiced their concern and anger of the lack of promotion Sony Pictures/Screen Gems is giving this film. To be honest, I’ve only just started seeing TV spots about a week ago. Compare that to a movie like Red Sparrow, which is coming out in March, but already has a TV spot out this month.

The common thought when films try to suppress a movie is that the film must be horrible. Usually, that’s the case; if a film is embargoed to critics until its release date, that generally means the studio doesn’t have confidence in it. There have only been a few times when a film is so good that the embargo is put in place so critics don’t accidentally spoil it. But this didn’t seem to be the case with Proud Mary. 

After viewing the trailer and artwork for the film last year, I was immediately worried. Something about it told me this film wasn’t going to get the attention it deserved. Maybe it’s because the trailer focused on some heavily worn-down tropes in the female spy genre; the blond wig, the thigh-high boots, the arsenal of weapons in their home, etc. The wig really got me, to be honest. I thought the purpose of a wig was so you can’t be identified; wouldn’t a loud blonde wig like that make the character stand out even more?

Even with that said, though, how bad could Proud Mary be? With stars like Taraji P. Henson and Danny Glover headlining, the film has to at least be moderately enjoyable and profitable enough for Sony to feel like they’ll at least break even. But what do the critics say?

For this post, I’ve specifically cataloged what critics of color have to say about this film. Every blurb you’ll read in this post is from a critic of color. This is not because I don’t trust what white male critics have to say. But I specifically want to know what folks with some skin in this representation game have to say about this film and the promotion scandal surrounding it. People who are tacitly in tune with the battles actors of color face in Hollywood might have a different perspective and frame of reference than someone who doesn’t. Plus, I’d like to highlight what their viewpoints are, since 1) this is a film starring actors of color and 2) signal-boosting some of the few POC critics there is a really important thing to do. So with all of that said, let’s get into it.

Britany Murphy, Geeks of Color

“…[T]he characters of [Danny] Glover and [Billy] Brown are the typical, uninspired head-honcho types and while they provide some foil for Mary, you could have interchanged the pair with any other actors and ended up with similar results. Also, there was hardly enough Mary. I went into the theater believing the film would be something similar to Atomic Blonde or John Wick – with Mary kicking a** and taking names, but I was surprised to see that they focused more on the family drama aspect.

Now, while I did enjoy this and was glad that it delved deeper into a story than just Mary shooting up everyone in her sight, it should not have taken until the third act to get into most of the action. The progression was a bit slow to get to the boiling point and the lackluster secondary characters did not help much. However, the performances of Henson and Winston most certainly make up for the film’s slow points. As does the music – from The Temptations to Tina Turner, the soundtrack will have you dancing in your seat and while the film is set in today’s era, the throwback jams fit the mood of the film perfectly.”

Michael Ordoña, Common Sense Media

“This action film’s lack of originality and cleverness is made worse by a self-defeating visual style and overuse of music. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the main character is an ace killer who wants out of the biz after bonding with a kid. Her bosses “love” her but won’t let her go….The folks behind Proud Mary seem to have decided against character development, so there’s nothing to distinguish one person from another in terms of their behavior…The dialogue is flat and predictable, and the action scenes are uninterestingly executed, with no tension or wow factor.

All this is compounded by hyperactive editing that seems flat-out inappropriate in most scenes, especially the quieter ones. All the excessive cutting prevents the scenes from having any flow. It actually makes the film hard to watch at times — not because of the speed of the edits, but because it feels like someone keeps rhythmically hitting the “previous channel” key on a remote control…Proud Mary is a style-less exercise that wastes some talent.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap

“‘Proud Mary’ did not screen for critics, nor should it have. It’s a copy of a copy of a mediocre original, with the drab aesthetics of a TV movie and the emotional hollowness of an infomercial. Ostensibly about a hired killer (the Halloween wigs and running-in-stilettos kind) who decides to reclaim her femininity, the picture is sunk by its all-male writing and directing team’s narrow conception of womanhood as lipstick and maternal instincts. (“London Has Fallen” helmer Babak Najafi directs; the screenplay is credited to Steve Antin, John Stuart Newman, and Christian Swegal.) Being a mercenary has never looked so cheesy.”

Joi Childs, Black Girl Nerds

“…There are articles out there that have detailed the lack of promotion for this film, which I won’t re-iterate, but I agree with. Layer in the fact that critics, including myself, did not receive screeners for this film. Now add another layer that in the whole five borough city of New York, there were less than five theaters showing evening screenings…[But] for 90 minutes, Proud Mary delivered to me a campy, enthralling and fun movie.

Proud Mary is a solid addition to the female-led action film lexicon. What makes it even more solid is Taraji’s single-minded determination to provide a range of Black women-led roles. Make no mistake: from the characters, to the cadence, the Black mom moments and phenomenal wigs, this is a Black-ass film. While not perfect, the film still shines despite the odds (and A&M budget) stacked against it.

And that’s something to be proud of.”

Travis Hopson, Punch Drunk Critics

“Taraji P. Henson? Badass. We love her as the tough-as-nails Cookie Lyon on Empire, and when she finally received the acclaim she deserved for Hidden Figures, we all saw it as a victory. We’ve been rooting for Henson ever since her character’s transformative arc in Hustle ‘n Flow. So when the trailers for Proud Mary promised Taraji as a John Wick-style killer set to a ’70s Blaxploitation vibe, there was legit reason to get hyped. Taraji’s about to kick some ass, y’all!!!

Well, nah. Proud Mary is a disaster from start to finish, and we see why Sony has quietly dumped the movie in the middle of January with zero buzz. How could that possibly happen? Who could possibly screw up Taraji P. Henson packin’ heat with attitude to match and a soundtrack of Motown’s finest? Blame London has Fallen director Babaj Najafi and a couple of so-called writers who have foisted upon Taraji a bland, boring, and dreary assassin flick the quality of the Bruce Willis/50 Cent stinkers piling up DVD bins at Walmart. Right from the beginning there is something cheap and inartful about it, as trained contract killer Mary Goodwin does her morning workout to the tune of “Poppa was a Rolling Stone” over title credits that may have been lifted from Cleopatra Jones.”

From these reviews, the verdict is that Proud Mary is a movie that had potential, and if you’re down for some campy fun, you might enjoy it. But overall, Proud Mary seems like it’s a film that squanders Henson’s talents for something derivative.

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If you’ve seen the film, what did you think about it? Do you have a different opinion? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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