I Got Richard Pryor’s Help Moving
Ugh. We have to move… again. Many people hate moving; in fact, thirty-five percent would rather file their taxes than move. I’m not a fan of taxes, but I’d become a CPA if I could avoid being displaced. When I found out we had to move, the first thing I did was pray that God’s will be done, and the second was to look for a movie that would help me cope with the stress of moving. Not surprisingly, the film Moving came to the top of the list. But what did surprise me was who showed up. I Got Richard Pryor’s Help Moving.
As mentioned here, I’ve struggled with a new version of anxiety over the last two and a half years. There have been multiple contributing factors, but the most exhausting trial has been having to move twice in under a year. A year ago we got a thirty-day notice to be out of our rental and, with literally one rental house available in our city (but hundreds for sale, which we couldn’t afford), God provided. But after nine months we came home to a ninety-day notice on the front door and thus started our current scramble to find a home.
Similar to what I did watching Ted Lasso to overcome my anxiety, I found Moving’s (1988) plot to be therapeutic. After an acquisition, Arlo Pear (Richard Pryor) is laid off, but his dream job materializes with one obstacle: he must move from New Jersey to Idaho.
On a meta-level, I know all of Richard Pryor’s frustrations in the movie are scripted, so personally I can’t take great comfort in a “misery loves company” way. But the scripted complications resonate because they’re based on the truth and pain of moving. For me, the main trouble with relocating is in the ripples leading up to the big day, and afterward in the settling in. But that’s where the humor in Richard Pryor’s film abounds: in the difficult ripple effects. I watched Moving a month pryor to our last day in the old house. And those scripted difficulties gave me the idea to try and laugh at the real difficulties I encountered along the way.
And there were difficulties. Record breaking temperatures, often hitting 108 degrees. Discovering that carpet needed to be ripped out, and laminate flooring needed to be bought and installed three weeks before the final move-in date. Changing addresses with every company on the planet. But being evacuated due to the Fairview Fire had the biggest impact. As if moving wasn’t stressful enough, imagine knowing how much stuff had to be packed up, but being unable to go back home. And yet, through all of that, sometimes I just had to laugh—not so much with the death and destruction of fire—but with a willingness to have a positive outlook. Relying on God was crucial.
And maybe it’s okay to just relax with a funny movie and enjoy clearly scripted situations, such as the daughter (Stacey Dash from Clueless) sabotaging their open house in protest of the move. Or when, having just signed loan paperwork, the Pears realize the lender (played by Rodney Dangerfield) embezzles money by betting on horse races (they find out whether the loan will go through by watching which horse wins!). But the movie works because problems with packing, the difficulty of change inherent in moving, and the tension of a schedule to vacate one set of memories and seamlessly insert into another place, is relatably stressful. And, maybe more importantly, there were some poignant statements made under the veil of humor.
What I didn’t tell you was that just pryor to viewing Moving, I watched Pacific Heights. And as I ripped out carpet at the new mobile and built a temporary wall creating a room for my daughter, I thought, I hope I’m not pulling a Michael Keaton. But the Pacific Heights journey went deeper for me when I read Sezin Koehler’s article. The piece includes some sad commentary on subtle racism. So I went into Moving not intentionally thinking about race, but fortunately my subconscious had been quickened.
Two days after viewing Moving I started thinking about what the film’s subtext said about the ’80s: as memorable as the decade was, there were some major socioeconomic problems. While the Pear family dealt with getting top dollar for their house, upgrading to a new one, and living at an upper-middle class level, I was reminded of something I read recently. In Back to Our Future, David Sirota says,
We know from surveys that both children and young adults who watched a lot of ’80s television disproportionately saw the Huxtables as a realistic representation of the average black family when, in fact, the Huxtables’ wealth was the rare exception to a 1980s experiencing an explosion in black poverty.1
I don’t think the movie intended to show Whites taking advantage of Blacks or to mislead the audience on demographic equity. But loan man Rodney Dangerfield’s embezzlement sure didn’t do the Pears any favors. And speaking of embezzlement, Sirota continues,
Such hybrid “post-ghetto” characters straddling minstrelsy and transcendence had their counterparts in the top movies of the era. Superman III’s Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) ends up saving the ultimate epitome of White Power—the Man of Steel—but only after Gorman suppresses his “black criminal” instinct that previously let him to embezzle money from his employer.2
But an era of “transcendence” and “color blindness” weren’t the only socioeconomic problems facing the ’80s, as Moving points out: there were some shady business practices too.
Relocating Non-White Collar Jobs
The minute Arlo entered his new job, he was accosted by news crews asking why the project he was expected to lead missed its initial deadline, losing millions. Dumbfounded, he was further informed the delivery miss caused the project to be canceled, which officially terminated his new employment. Pryor made the situation humorous, but ultimately it drove the character over the edge. I can relate to a new job during a move; well, new responsibilities while training my new boss. And although I only had one news crew breathing down my neck, many of us know how stressful missing an important deadline can be. Doing taxes doesn’t sound so bad after all.
When Arlo realized his new company didn’t manage funds appropriately (upper management continued to collect fat checks while the company suffered), he became an enjoyably unbelievable crusader. Putting on war paint and kicking butt by becoming a Rambo-esque visage (ironically similar to Randy Quaid’s character Arlo had mocked earlier) shows a progression from mild-mannered engineer to another ’80s icon: the militaristic lone wolf.
The audience expects Arlo to torture the executive who made him the fall guy, but Arlo instead pitched a recovery plan. Shaken but intrigued, the executive agreed. Arlo inflicted justice, regained his job, and managed to save countless other jobs by rescuing the project. The hero capability speaks to American bravado. While feeling distrusted, unappreciated, and expendable, we believe we have the potential to save a company (or at least make them more profitable). Most people want to seem like the hero and, at this point in the movie, Arlo embodies that for us.
Seen in isolation, Arlo’s immediate loss of his new job might just be another discomfiting joke in the movie’s comedy catalog, but in conjunction with the white-collar unethical behaviors, Moving is a serious reminder: forty years hasn’t changed much, at least when it comes to racial equity and employers earning trust.
The arguments for vigilante saviors from cultural Christianity versus a humble reliance on God is probably best suited for another article. But a desire to mature past solely self-focused pity in order to help others in a situation like an unwanted move is valuable. And as Moving outlined, the two areas of equitable housing and employment still need loving wolf packs of justice.
Moving in the Right Direction
Right before we had to move out of our last house, I was writing on new Marvel shows. One of my fellow writers, Matt Williams, penned a thought-provoking piece called “Cultivating a Legacy in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 1.” At the time I was impacted by the shared plight of many Black Americans trying to qualify for a place to live. But it wasn’t until the trifecta of Matt’s Falcon and Winter Soldier, Sezin Koehler’s Pacific Heights, and my watching Moving, that I realized how hard it is to be non-White, dealing with the difficulties of moving while fighting the limiting options of racism.
So what do I do with that empathy? We can’t just thank God that we don’t have it that bad if we’ve learned anything from Jesus’s rebuke to the Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like the poor man (Luke 18:9-14). We can’t single-handedly change the lending institutions and laws. We can’t individually finance every non-White person needing equal rights to basic housing. If I’m honest, I’m not sure what to do.
The first thing I always fall back on is prayer. We can pray that people wouldn’t continue the ’80s mentality of “transcendence.” We can beg that systematic discrimination be addressed. But we can also ask that God would provide resources for His children to have fairness in living spaces. And second, we can support organizations like these non-profits and Habitat for Humanity who provide assistance to the marginalized needing a roof over their head.
Moving managed to provide a much-needed humorous distraction, while reminding me that some of my sisters and brothers are forced to deal with the demon of discrimination while simultaneously struggling with relocation. Clearly there is something worse than moving and taxes.
1. David Sirota, Back to Our Future, Ballantine Books, New York, 2011, p. 182.
2. David Sirota, Back to Our Future, Ballantine Books, New York, 2011, p. 188.