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Film / Head of State

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The only thing white is the house.

A 2003 comedy film about a U.S. presidential election written by, directed by, and starring Chris Rock.

The (non-specific) party's candidates for President and Vice-President were killed when their planes crashed into each other. Senator Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn) — believing they have no chance of winning since the other party's candidate is unbeatable, having been Vice-President for eight years, a veteran of The Vietnam War, and Sharon Stone's cousin — decides to set his party up as next election's favorite by putting Mays Gilliam (Rock), a black alderman of the 9th Ward in Washington D.C., on the ticket.

The idea is that Mays will garner the party goodwill among the minority voters of America, so that when the next election comes they will be predisposed to vote for whoever the party has nominated, which Arnot plans to be himself. Unfortunately, once Mays—at the urging of his older brother and eventual running mate Mitch (Bernie Mac)—decides to run things his way, he does too well. So well that it looks like he has a legitimate chance of winning, and even if he fails, he will do well enough to be nominated again for the next election instead of Arnot.

Much of what follows is Arnot trying to undermine Mays while presidential favorite Brian Lewis (Nick Searcy) underestimates Mays to the very end.


  • Armor-Piercing Question: During the last presidential debate, Mays lays into Lewis by asking him "how can you talk about the poor if you've never been poor?" which leaves Lewis visibly stunned. Mays finishes it off by adding "God bless America, and every place else!"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Brian Lewis has been vice president for eight years, is a war hero, and is Sharon Stone's cousin.
  • Attack of the Political Ad:
    • Gilliam refuses to run attack ads on Lewis. Not because he has a moral compunction against them (although he does), but because he just does not think they do any good because everybody runs attack ads. He points out that, in Bugs Bunny cartoons, what hurt Elmer Fudd the most was not when Bugs would attack him directly, but when he would kiss him. So, Gilliam runs an ad campaign of people professing their support for Lewis: people like members of the KKK, Osama bin Laden and others.
    • Lewis's attack ads are so ridiculous, it's a wonder people believe them. His first one shows the White House exploding at the idea of Mays becoming president. An other is claiming that Mays supports cancer because he didn't attend an anti-cancer rally (which Lewis probably didn't attend either).
  • Bad Boss: Lewis berates and yells and his staff in contrast to how well Mays treats his campaign workers. When he loses he tries to strangle his campaign manager and then lines up his campaign employees so he can take turns punching them.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The opening of the film credits a number of famous politicians, then at the end adds "(are NOT in this movie)".
  • Be Yourself: Mays' campaign takes off after he stops trying to be what is expected of him and runs the campaign his way. It helps that the original campaign was deliberately engineered to not be successful. He only switches gears after meeting his brother, who points out all the things about the campaign that are "not him". He even criticizes the campaign ads saying "Mays" instead of "Gilliam", like they would for any other candidate, claiming it might as well mean Willie Mays.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mays initially refuses to believe he is being picked as a candidate for President of the United States of [North] America.
  • Catchphrase: It's an election movie, so it's to be expected.
    • Lewis has "God bless America, and no place else." His campaign slogan is "Vote Brian Lewis: it's your last chance."
    • Mays has "That ain't right!" as his slogan.
  • Chekhov's Gun: One of Mays' first scenes is his working as an Alderman promising a constituent if the local bus system strikes, Mays will personally drive the man to his job. On the days before the election when the powerful Teamsters Union wants to meet Mays, it coincides with the start of that bus strike the constituent fears was coming. Mays has his brother go to the meeting and drives the campaign bus around the strike area to help all the residence. It turns out to be a great public relations result.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Mays only gets a shot because the presidential and vice-presidential candidates die when their planes crash into each other.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: Mays and Mitch take over Lewis's TV to taunt him into debating, appearing on every channel. They even know when he changes channels.
  • Enemy Mine: Towards the end, Arnot gives Lewis advice on how to pull out a last minute victory, since neither of them wants to see Gilliam win.
  • Fatal Flaw: Lewis's insistent use of "God bless America, and no place else" proves to be his undoing in the end. Mays is able to fire back and declare "God bless America, and everybody else!"
  • Gone Horribly Right: Arnot picks Mays because he thinks he is capable of running a good race without actually winning, garnering them good will for the next election. Except he runs a really good race.
  • Greek Chorus: Provided by Nate Dogg.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Vice President Lewis is Sharon Stone's cousin, as he loves mentioning at every given opportunity.
  • Idiot Ball: Mays nearly derails his campaign when he assumes a cameraman is not filming him, and thus says something he would not say on the air. The members of his campaign afterwards point out to him that, when you are running for president, the camera is always running.
  • Jerkass: Lewis, Mays' ex-girlfriend, and Arnot are all very unpleasant people.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mays' ex-girlfriend does correctly point out that he needs to take his job and his life seriously if he wants to get ahead. He winds up taking her advice to her horror after she dumps him.
  • Kirk Summation: At the debate, Mays thoroughly deconstructs Lewis's Catchphrase by pointing out that there's no reason why God shouldn't bless the entire world, not just a single country, especially since America has already been blessed. This earns him the applause of the entire audience, including Lewis's supporters.
  • Lousy Lovers Are Losers: When Mays' bitchy girlfriend Kim dumps him, one of the many insults she throws at him is that he's a wimpy Extreme Doormat who's horrible in bed, and he gets angry enough that he almost punches her.
  • Midair Collision: A presidential candidate and his running mate have their private jets collide when landing, apparently due to them using their cell phones at the time. This sets up the plot to end up with the main character as the candidate.
  • No Party Given: Neither party is ever identified; the entire movie passes without it being specified if Gilliam is running as a Democrat or Republican, and Lewis's political credentials are a mix of both Democrat and Republican traits. However, one of the members of Arnot's party is explicitly for "Big Business", which tends to be a GOP thing, though "Big Business" has been fairly entrenched in both parties for some time now. That's arguably the joke towards the end when he says "I'm voting for Big Business!" He's on neither side but his own. The fact that Mays works in a poor Urban neighborhood gives you a big hint what party he's in.
  • No, You: Mays gives Brian Lewis a rare epic example of this trope in response to Lewis calling him "an amateur".
    Mays Gilliam: You're right, Vice President Lewis. I am an amateur. When it comes to creating so many enemies that we need billions of dollars to protect ourselves, I'm an amateur. When it comes to paying farmers not to grow food, while people in this country starve every day, I'm an amateur. When it comes to creating a drug policy that makes crack and heroin cheaper than asthma and AIDS medicine, I'm an amateur. But there's nothing wrong with being an amateur. The people that started the Underground Railroad were amateurs. Martin Luther King was an amateur. Have you ever been to Amateur Night at the Apollo? Some of the world's best talent was there: James Brown, Luther Vandross, Rockwell, the Crown Heights Affair... the Fat Boys, Rob Base. But you wouldn't know nothing about that. Why? Because when it comes to judging talent and potential, you, my friend, are an amateur!
  • Product Placement: Yes, Fubu does, in fact, make formalwear.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Mays gets brutally dumped by his bitchy fianceé Kim (Robin Givens). When he announces his campaign, she desperately attempts to get him back. But Kim never actually tries to make amends, no—she simply waltzes into several scenes and tries to talk Mays into marrying her. See Running Gag below for how that works out.
  • Running Gag:
    • "We're the government; we can do anything."
    • The Imagine Spot of Mays being assassinated at a podium.
    • When Mays' ex-girlfriend appears at rallies or events, Mays will call, "Security!" and she is then dragged off with the exact same scream each time. Then it happens to Arnot, still with the same scream.
    • "God bless America and No Place else."
    • Brian Lewis has been vice president for eight years, is a war hero, and is Sharon Stone's cousin.
    • The guy with the demo CD trying to get a Presidential candidate and his running mate to promote his music.
    • The constant need to specify that Mays is indeed running for President. (Of what?) Of the United States. (Of what?) Of America. (Which "America"?) North!
  • Rushmore Refacement: Mays' head is added to the lineup, complete with shiny earring.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Mays declines a campaign contribution from a beverage company whose latest brand of malt liquor is clearly marketed to encourage underage drinking.
    Mays: "Just like momma used to make?" Whose momma? Not my momma!
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: "We're the government; we can do anything." This excuse is used whenever someone suggests something of dubious legality, usually in the realm of dirty election tricks that fall short of outright cheating.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sore Loser: Lewis throws one hell of a temper tantrum when he loses, sobbing as he physically assaults his campaign staff.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Party head Bill Arnott chooses Gilliam as their replacement presidential candidate because it will win minority votes for the party and set him up for a win when he runs for president during the next election. He is not at all prepared for the possibility that Gilliam might win.
  • Throwing Out the Script: Mays metaphorically throws out the script by turning off the teleprompter with a prepared speech on it. He then starts asking the crowd how hard their lives currently are ("how many of you have to work two jobs just to make enough money to be broke?"), ending each question with "that ain't right!" The crowd loves it, and Mays ends up making "that ain't right!" into a new campaign slogan.
  • Your Mom: In an attempt to goad Lewis into doing a debate, Mays and his brother stand outside his apartment telling "Yo momma" jokes. Lewis eventually relents when his mom, who is in the room, gives him a Dope Slap for not standing up for her.