Film / The Great White Hype

"Some say this upcoming title fight is built around racism! But is it racism that electrifies people? Across the globe? Or is it a pride in your tribe?"
Mitchell Kane

The Great White Hype is a 1996 film directed by Reginald Hudlin. It stars Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Berg, Damon Wayans, Jeff Goldblum, Jon Lovitz, Cheech Marin, John Rhys-Davies, Salli Richardson and Jamie Foxx.

The title is a play on the title of the 1970 film The Great White Hope, but it is not based on an actual boxing contest. It was inspired by Larry Holmes's 1982 fight with Gerry Cooney and Mike Tyson's 1995 return fight vs. Peter McNeeley.

The film was distributed by 20th Century Fox, which also distributed the earlier film.

James "The Grim Reaper" Roper (Damon Wayans), the undefeated heavyweight boxing champ of the world, defeats his latest challenger with ease and visits an after-party thrown by the Don King Expy the Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson), a conniving and manipulative businessman who also acts as Roper's fight promoter.The Sultan relays some bad news to everyone: The fight was a financial flop. He deduces the reason that boxing events have become far less profitable is because audience members are sick of watching only black boxers fight each other. The Sultan predicts that a white contender, even one without a viable chance of winning, would create a huge payday for all involved in the fight (citing the Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney battle in 1982 and the playing of the race card in that instance as a precedent), and he vows to either find or "create" a white contender in no time at all. Hilarity Ensues


  • Actor Allusion: As Samuel L Jackson's Sultan sits down at ringside he has a short exchange with a familiar looking man.
  • Bad Boss: Sultan rewards his subordinates but makes it abundantly clear that he is the boss, his word goes and do not piss him off. Wielding a very hefty looking scimitar during a business meeting is not a sign of a nice man. But then, his Expy is somewhat notorious.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mitchell Kane to his documentary team. He sold out. Big.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Mitchell Kane. Starts off as a crusading journalist out to expose the Sultan only to take up a job with Sultan for a big paycheque. While it looks like the reverend is very happy with Mitchell’s work and will reward Mitchell for his efforts, Mitchell just can’t help himself.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
  • Cool Car: Subverted. The "Bro-ham."
  • Evil Mentor: Sultan to Bambi and Mitchell.
  • Expy: There are a few, which is to be expected in a comedy about boxing.
    • Samuel L. Jackson as Sultan is Don King.
    • Damon Wayans’ Grim Reaper Roper could certainly be considered a 90’s version of Floyd Mayweather Jr but back when it was made, probably Tyson at the top of his game.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Mitchell Kane. That swine.
  • Fake Irish: In-universe example. Terry Conklin is not Irish at all, but Sultan claims he is in promotions so that he can play the race card more blatantly. Amusingly Terry's trainer holds to older ideas of race and mentions that being Irish means he isn't actually white.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sultan. But then he is a Don King Expy.
  • Fish out of Water: Conklin is an All-Loving Hero utterly disgusted by the racism and sexism around him fighting for the hope of earning money for the homeless. He's so far out of his depth in the cynical world of boxing that he doesn't even comprehend how bad it is, and by the end just wants to go home.
  • Gangsta Style: Shaabazz, Hassan and two Mooks ambush Sultan and co at Sultan's mansion brandishing guns horizontally. Queue lots and lots of pretty red lights focusing on Hassan. Even some of the trained bodyguards are guilty of this:
    Hassan: See this is what happens see when you been living lavish, you know, sippin' wine an' everything then we come in here Neno Brown Style. Huh-yeah!
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: The challenger trains hard. He also has lots of moral support and fans backing him. While the undefeated champion, lets himself get fat and hardly trains. During the main event, the challenger lands one good punch, before getting knockout out by an angry, overweight champion.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Michell Kane starts out trying to expose the Sultan's corrupt practices. By the end of the film, he decides to leave journalism and become part of the corrupt, boxing industry.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: When Conklin's charity work and social justice focus starts being contrasted with Roper's self-indulgent lifestyle in the media, one journalist finds out that Roper is actually spending large amounts of money on charitable causes and AIDS research, as well as visiting children's hospitals in every city he visits. Roper is pissed at what he sees as in intrusion and ends the interview.
  • Hope Spot: By the time of the fight Roper is badly out of shape and blatantly doesn't care, versus an opponent who has been training hard and thinks this is his big shot. It's still over 27 seconds into the first round.
  • Insistent Terminology: "It's Merlot"
  • Karma Houdini: The Sultan gets his payday, gets off scott free, and gains a new fighter in the process.
  • Large Ham: Jeff Goldblum enjoys a bit of scenery chewing in this flick. Whether he’s mangling metaphors aimed at the corruption in boxing or reading a blank piece of paper telling the audience that wheelchair bound child will believe that he can walk again if Terry beats Roper.
  • Laser Sight: Shaabazz and Hassan try to ambush Sultan at his mansion but the Sultan has many bodyguards, all very big men, all with guns and all with Laser Sights. Hassan really gets in the mood to negotiate when the little red dots all congregate on his crotch.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Sultan. He gets the boxing world, even the cynics, to believe that Terry is a legitimate contender for the Heavyweight Crown.
  • Ms. Fanservice: For a film about boxing's excess and corruption, you can bet that there are more than a few ladies taking up this role:
    • Bambi. Ooh La La.
    • The Playboy Bunnies for Terry's photoshoot.
    • The female fans who increase in number for each of Terry's press conferences.
  • Nothing Personal: Sultan shakes Mitchell’s hand after the fight. He knew Mitchell had succumbed to greed and wasn’t that bothered, he would have done it to.
  • Oh No You Didn't!: Mitchell really should not have said “My brother, I'm a man of peace” to the angry black man whose view of the fight he was blocking.
  • Read the Fine Print: Sultan's contracts aren't so much filled with tricks as deceptively vague. His legal adviser tells him that any attempt to prove it means anything specific will lead to years of litigation. This is specifically to make it so difficult to enforce that it's easier to just go along with what he wants. It's remarked in the movie that no sane lawyer would allow their client to sign it, which is why he places his own people as his fighters' lawyers.
  • Talking Your Way Out: Sultan confronts Mitchel, a crusading reporter with a specific grudge against him and blackmail material he's willing to use, in person; by the end of the conversation Mitchel is his publicist.
  • The Alleged Car: Marvin Shabazz's Merlot Brougham.
  • Title Drop: Almost.
    Sultan: Is it Hype, or is it Hope?
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Subverted but played with.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Sol talking Mitchel into taking a shot at displacing Sultan. If Mitchel wins he gets his old job back in the new regime, if he loses he possibly gets his job back under under Sultan but definitely gets revenge on his replacement.