On the Silent, Radical Black Politics of the 1976 Car Wash Film ‹ Literary Center

welcome to open form, a weekly movie podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie he likes, a movie he hates, a movie he hates to like. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A whole new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed that they talk about it.


In this episode of Open the formMychal talks to Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) on the 1976 film car washdirected by Michael Schultz and starring Franklyn Ajaye, Bill Duke, George Carlin, The Pointer Sisters and Richard Pryor.

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From the episode:

Deesha Philyaw: There’s a moment where Bill Duke’s character, Abdullah, uses an insult against Lindy. Lindy has the last word and says…I’m more me and more of a man than you’ll ever be and more of a woman than you’ve ever been. … The filmmaker also didn’t want to give the impression that Lindy had it easy. That would have been, I think, a big mistake. But then he used the character of Abdullah to show that hostility. But that was not the general feeling and the sentiment of Lindy’s colleagues.

Everybody cared about everybody, you know? And when I think about why I love this movie, despite its flaws, I think there’s that aspect as well. But they didn’t do it that way, that is, we are color blind. Race doesn’t matter. He did it in a way that felt very natural and very organic, which is people working together every day, supporting each other, forming what we would consider a family in many ways through their differences. But at the same time, no one has to pretend to be colorless or asexual or whatever for it to work.

Mychal Denzel Smith: I think for me that moment between Abdullah and Lindy reflects what we would now call the hoteps, that strain of black radical politics that has always existed. And that’s a plus for that part of it, which is revolutionary, isn’t it? He changed his name, Abdullah Muhammed Akhbar. He comes to work late and he’s just like, I don’t need this slave labor and all this other stuff. And he focuses on the idea of ​​revolution as being something about the black man and they see Lindy as a betrayal of that.

There are so many other examples of this popping up…like all the black feminist literature of the time that deals with what makes me think of a Dave Chappelle now, doesn’t it? You just can’t see past the idea that the primary goal of black liberation is the black man, and then the black man’s ability to do anything. But it’s so rich that Lindy has the last word there. Lindy verbally spits in Abdullah’s face to say, you don’t even know what you want that will set you free. And I’m also sure of myself.


Deesha PhilyawWritings on race, parenting, gender and culture have appeared in the New York Timesthe Washington Post, McSweeney’s, the Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, she currently lives in Pittsburgh with her daughters.

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