The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator claims that black people are rarely cast in films because they “pop,” meaning they look too good on screen, making their white co-stars look washed out. He is at the LA Festival of Forbidden Cinema and Unabashedly Racist Animation, watching old footage of Hominy. After the screening is over, the host announces that the last living Little Rascal is present, and invites Hominy onstage. Hominy is given a standing ovation and gives a speech about his time working on The Little Rascals. A group of female college students from the Nu Iota Gamma sorority raise their hands and ask a question in unison.
Just through its name alone, the LA Festival of Forbidden Cinema and Unabashedly Racist Animation challenges ideas about linear progress in new ways. As is well known, making something “forbidden” often increases its appeal, which helps explain why racism can increase in societies where it is seen as taboo. Furthermore, some people are nostalgic and sentimental about old art forms, even if they are connected to racist ideas.
Themes
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Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
The women, who are themselves black, are dressed in what one audience member calls “non-ironic blackface,” which earns them jeers from the surrounding crowd. Speaking into the microphone, Hominy says that they didn’t use to call it blackface, just “acting.” The crowd settles down, and someone asks if it’s true that Foy Cheshire owns the rights to the Little Rascals movies. Hominy addresses the narrator as “master,” which makes the audience turn round to stare at the narrator, wanting to get a look at a real life slaveholder.
Again, it is disturbingly unclear where Hominy’s “performance” ends and his real personality begins. If blackface used to just be called acting, then is Hominy’s voluntarily enslavement a kind of performance art? This question points to the insidious complexity of internalized racism and self-hatred.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
The lights dim and the screening of racist cartoons begins. The crowd watches and laughs at the cartoons for two hours, but when the lights come up again everyone starts to feel guilty. After, Hominy sits in the lobby signing memorabilia. The narrator had forgotten how funny Hominy is, and now reflects about how existing as a black person in the past was the best form of comedy training, as humor was a way to escape cruelty and violence. Hominy poses for a photo with the Nu Iota Gamma women.
This passage explores the powerful but tragic connection between black identity, racism, and comedy. For many black people in the past, humor was a survival mechanism. This adds another layer of guilt to the experience of watching racist cartoons; not only are they offensive, but they capitalize on the way black people have been forced to use humor to escape abuse.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
One of the women, who the narrator nicknames “Topsy” but whose real name is Butterfly, says that there was only one moment in history without racism: a single second when someone took a photo of the Obamas in front of the White House. A white man tells Hominy that he’s “the last real nigger,” adding he means it with the hard “r.” Hominy thanks him. Butterfly shows Hominy copies of the ledgers for all the Our Gang and Little Rascals movies. The narrator snatches them from her, and is shocked to find that there were actually 227 movies made, not 221 as he previously thought. The entries for films shot in late 1944 have been blacked out.
Again, past and present seem to be completely confused. The characters have just spent the past two hours watching old racist cartoons, there are women in blackface, and a white man is using the n-word with abandon. However, perhaps this only seems strange if one accepts the narrative of linear progress that the book opposes. As Butterfly semi-seriously suggests, there may have only been one single moment in history without racism.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
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The narrator sees a list of names of people who have checked out the ledger—including Foy’s. Hominy gets in the car and puts his arm around Butterfly’s shoulders. As they drive, Butterfly sits on Hominy’s lap and shows a picture of a blackface event she attended named “the Compton Cookout.” The narrator looks at the picture and feels disappointed in the “lack of imagination” in the costumes. The people featured have picked up on only a couple of stereotypes about the black community, neglecting many others. In other photos, Butterfly is not dressed in blackface but as other ethnic stereotypes.
This passage explores a new side to the issue of racial stereotypes—perhaps stereotypes themselves wouldn’t be such a problem if people weren’t fixated on such a small number of them. If there were a vast proliferation of stereotypes rather than only a handful, the books suggests, they might be less harmful.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Hominy, Butterfly, and the narrator arrive at Foy’s house on Mulholland drive. The narrator correctly guesses that the passcode for the gate is 1865, and thinks “black people are so fucking obvious.” He lets Hominy and Butterfly go in together, and runs off alone. He spots Foy’s luxury car and sees Foy sitting nearby in a lawn chair, typing and talking on the phone. The narrator asks what he is writing, and Foy replies that it’s a book of essays called Me Talk White One Day. The narrator asks when he last had an original idea, and Foy replies: “Probably not since your dad died.”
One of Foy’s villainous traits is the fact that he has no shame. We might expect an academic who made his name through scholarship on the poor black community to try and hide his wealth. However, Foy flaunts his money and fame, and is even unashamed about his unoriginality. He seems to possess no moral compass, only a desire for power.
Themes
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Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Back at Foy’s house, Butterfly and Hominy are skinny dipping in the pool. Hominy pretends he can’t swim, gripping Butterfly to stay afloat. The narrator recalls his father’s words—“Who am I? and How may I become myself?”—and concludes that he is “as lost as I ever was.” He considers getting rid of his farm and using the land to make a giant wave pool so he can surf in his backyard.
The ending might seem like a happy one in which the narrator has achieved his goals, found “home,” and defeated his enemy. However, these achievements do not seem to make much of a difference to the narrator, making the novel’s conclusion more ambivalent than triumphant.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon