In Black Magic for White Boys, Larry (Ronald Guttman) runs a decrepit theatre in the midst of New York, where he trades in the dwindling art of illusion-making. But when he stumbles across a book of black magic spells, whereby he can actually make people disappear for good, he finds his fortunes turning around. Yet, it’s not only in the theatre where people are disappearing. An awful landlord, Jamie (Lou Jay Taylor)) is completely committed to laissez-faire capitalism, raising the rent on his tenants by a whopping thirty percent. Meanwhile, Oscar (director Onur Tukel) finds himself an unwitting father-to-be after having unprotected sex with a woman who claimed she could no longer have children. If only there was a way to rid himself of said child…
Black Magic for White Boys, originally created as a TV series, interweaves various dilemmas, its loose approach to plot taking in several characters, situations, and ideas across its 105-minute runtime. More funny-ouch than funny-haha, this black comedy trucks in provocation, stretching the boundaries of good taste in the pursuit of higher truth.
Onur Tukel’s characters are remarkably mean-spirited — whether its the pursuit of love, happiness, career-success or personal gain, they do absolutely anything in order to further their own interests — but they do live in New York, which can be an awfully mean city; especially for the working-class battling off wave after wave of gentrification. And while the jokes are decidedly non-PC — laden with outrageous slur after slur — Tukel aims his jokes, Family Guy-like, at basically everyone. He even uses his own ambiguous race — Turkish, but obviously white — as a joke in a job interview, saying that he can be a “white” or “ethnic” hire depending on what the company needs. It’s the kind of movie where you find yourself laughing despite your better nature, Tukel using bad taste as a means to challenge assumptions and criticize an unfair system.
To be fair, you know what you’re going to get with an Onur Tukel movie. His hit Catfight was basically one long grudge match between two women constantly pulling each other’s hair out. And while Black Magic for White Boys never reaches quite those absurd heights, this is an enjoyable outing from the Turkish-American director. It mostly works thanks to the ways he genuinely sketches out his African-American characters: while there are jokes at their expense, he does eventually see them as the undeserving victims of oppressive forces, finding a strange, roundabout way to criticize the nefarious forces of gentrification.
Sprinkling in elements of magic realism (magic everyone randomly accepts as a given rather than a surprise) such as growth pills and ancient incantations, and you can see how this film would’ve easily worked as a longer TV series — there’s a lot of unexplored material and ideas here, giving the film an unpolished and unfinished feel. With nothing to shout about with regards to camerawork and style, the movie lives off the energy of its performers, who all put in great work as terrible narcissists. We might not like them, but we’re not really supposed to, making Black Magic for White Boys weirdly charming as opposed to mean and off-putting. It’s a delicate magic act, but Tukel just about pulls it off.