Looking Back

Chris Rock’s Poli-Satire ‘Head of State’

Leuel Bekele, A&E Editor

The Year was 2003

Chris Rock wrote, directed, produced and acted in “Head of State” in which he plays Mays Gilliam, a black alderman in Washington D.C..

When the Democratic party’s candidate dies unexpectedly, white Senator Bill Arnot selects Gilliam to run as the nation’s first-ever minority nominee in a sly move to improve the party’s image and attract a wider demographic.

Under usual circumstances, Arnot could easily win the election. However, he’s not expected to this time. Republican nominee Brian Lewis (Nick Cearcy) has more experience and public appeal — he’s Sharon Stone’s cousin.

On the other hand, everybody loves an underdog.

Years Later

The first time I saw “Head of State,” I was enamored by Rock’s take on the idea of the first black president. The film also held historical significance as it preceded Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential win by about one term.

At the time, it was a reality greater than fiction.

“Head of State” got a lot right thanks to Rock’s direction, which he took on despite reservations. Also on board was the late, great Bernie Mac who portrayed Rock’s brother and running mate, Mitch Gilliam.

An additional plus was the musical talent of Nate Dogg, who provided comedic narration throughout the movie in the form of song.

Then and Now

It’s been great to witness the progress that has been made in the 17 years since “Head of State’s” release. But it’s also disheartening how much hasn’t changed since the historic inauguration of the first black president — and especially jarring to see how much worse things got during the presidency that followed it.

In hindsight, however, it’s not all that surprising seeing as both presidencies have some things in common with the fictional run of Gilliam.

The Irony

“Head of State’s” interpretation of politics can be compared to Donald Trump’s presidency in a number of ways.

At one point, party advisor Debra Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) tells Gilliam after a speech that he “can’t go up to a group of people and just talk!” For Gilliam, this meant presenting his authentic self and the issues he recognized. Trump also did just that, which worked out for him to an extent.

On one hand he reached the extreme right, but the extreme right is the butt of a lot of jokes in “Head of State.”

Some of the film’s best humor takes jabs at conservative politics. Brian Lewis is portrayed as a more traditional Republican, unlike Trump. He was expected to win, but this only made him more complacent in his campaigning, thus fueling Gilliam’s underdog complex — sound familiar?