March 26, 2012


When Lou Rawls sang, "Love is a Hurtin' Thing," he probably didn't have in mind a five-foot-tall hayseed using her bright yellow platforms to stomp Mississippi mudholes in everyone who dared to disparage her man. Mr. Rawls (can I call you Lou?), allow me to introduce you to Emma Mae.

Fresh off the turnip truck
Compton, California: mid-70s. Definitely the weekend. The laziest of all block parties is happening and you're invited. The only dress code is short-shorts (for girls) and impeccable beards (for guys), but it's not strictly enforced. A friendly basketball game is underway, kids are abusing themselves on a Slip-N-Slide and a bongo/flute duo have built up a respectable audience using only four notes. The single thing happening that's even remotely exciting is a surprise shoulder-licking, and, though the licker absolutely looks like he deserves a knuckle sandwich for it, no such sandwich is administered. Very lazy indeed.

He's got it coming
Things get a bit livelier across town, as recently-orphaned Southern geek Emma Mae, with all the diction and optimism of Gomer Pyle, clomps off a bus into the home of her deeply embarrassed cousins, who are immediately guilted into taking her along as the fifth wheel on a double-date to a college cafeteria. Emma sits alone watching two of the worst-dressed breakdancers in history while her cousins' nice-guy boyfriends work the room, trying to pawn her off on a man. Just when they're about to give up, infamous local pillhead Jess sleazes into the room. They've spotted their pigeon. Luckily, he takes a shine to her, but just as they're getting to know each other, enter the shoulder-licker from earlier -- who, as it turns out, is Zeke, Jess' hot-headed sidekick. He protests their newfound union, referring to Emma Mae as "Ug Mug." In response, Emma delivers his long-overdue knuckle sandwich, laying his ass out and earning the respect of her cousins and their boyfriends, who celebrate by buying her her very first taco. A red-letter day for young Emma, to be sure.

People didn't like ass as much back in the '70s
That night, Jess takes Emma to a house party. She giggles at his bump 'n' grind. Jess' extended crew of unsavories (probably all a bunch of shoulder-lickers) show up uninvited with fightin' on the brain. Jess jumps in, seemingly to prevent a skirmish, but inevitably lands the inaugural punch and, next thing you know, partygoers who were once catching only a groove are now catching crowbars with their ribcages and bottles with their afros. One of Emma's cousins even gets her pants set on fire. The trouble around Jess only escalates over the next few days, but Emma is undeterred, remaining fiercely loyal to him, and in doing so, begins her metamorphosis from naive country girl to steely-eyed militant.

The turnip truck is but a distant memory
Even with its quirks and detours (watch and see), Emma Mae is basically a modest little film about the lengths that someone will go to for love and the depths they can reach when it's compromised. So how do you sell a movie like that? Unicorn Video's VHS release carries a photo of a wet-lipped, well-endowed model with disco hair, guns gripped in both of her perfectly-manicured hands. The Xenon DVD version I watched features airbrushed art of three golden afro ladies in hot pants, the one in the foreground looking seductively over her shoulder at you, clutching her butt cheek. Judging by box art and home video retitling, you might expect Black Sister's Revenge to be some sexy Foxy Brown-style action spectacular with a human wet dream in the starring role whose hairdo does double-duty as a gun holster. Don't believe it. Jerri Hayes is no Pam Grier and director Jamaa Fanaka is no Jack Hill, but most importantly, Emma Mae is no Black Sister's Revenge. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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