is a 1970 American comedy-drama film directed by Melvin Van Peebles. Written by Herman Raucher, it tells the story of an extremely bigoted 1960's white insurance salesman named Jeff Gerber who wakes up one morning to find that he has become black. The premise for the film was inspired by Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis
and John Howard Griffin's autobiographical Black Like Me
Van Peebles' only studio film, Watermelon Man
was a financial success, but Van Peebles did not accept Columbia Pictures' three-picture contract, instead developing the independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
. The music for Watermelon Man, written and performed by Van Peebles, was released on a soundtrack album, which spawned the single "Love, that's America". In 2011, that single received much mainstream attention when videos set to the song and featuring footage of Occupy Wall Street became viral.
This film provides examples of the following tropes:
- Angry Black Man: Gerber has become this at the end of his film.
- Black Face: Narrowly averted. Originally, the film wanted a white man who'd be made up as a black man for the rest of the film. Instead Peebles managed to convince them to cast Godfrey Cambridge, who was made up as a white man for the first section of the film.
- Black Is Bigger in Bed: Joked with twice in the film, both times with Gerber muttering that it's "an old wives' tale".
- Color Me Black: The basic premise of the movie.
- Ethnic Menial Labor: When asked what he's paid for doing the menial work, Gerber makes the quip often attributed to Bill Cosby, et al that "The lady of the house lets me sleep with her". He also namechecks Chinese launderers when accusing his wife of having Chinese heritage.
- Executive Meddling: Averted. First, the executives wanted a white actor in Blackface instead of vice versa. Secondly, they wanted an Alternative Ending where Gerber wakes up white, having learned his lesson.
- Where Da White Women At?: Averted regarding Gerber and his wife. Played straight with the Norwegian secretary, who wants Gerber because he's black.