Head of State is a 2003 comedy film directed, written by, and starring Chris Rock and co-starring Bernie Mac. It marked the directorial debut of Rock, who had previously worked as a writer, producer and actor.

The film's title refers to one of the key functions of the President of the United States, as the American head of state. This was the last film by cinematographer Donald E. Thorin, who died in 2016, having not worked on a film in thirteen years.


Mays Gilliam is the alderman for the 9th Ward in Washington D.C.. After learning he is likely to lose his job and getting dumped by his girlfriend, Kim, Mays is surprisingly chosen as the party candidate for the presidency after his party's original presidential and vice-presidential nominees die in a plane crash and he is lauded as a hero for saving a woman from an explosion. Assuming the election was already lost to sitting vice-president Brian Lewis, the party decided to pick a likable but unwinnable minority candidate to improve their chances in the next presidential election.

At first, Mays feels he will not be able to succeed as President because he would be representing the entire African-American populace, and does not want to do anything to mess it up. However, Mays begins to rise in the polls after his brother persuades him to speak out for what he believes. He begins to talk about issues such as welfare, money, society, etc.

After Lewis runs a series of attack ads including one saying Mays supports cancer, Mays begins to fight back using what he claimed was "kissing" his opponent (taken from Bugs Bunny-Elmer Fudd cartoons). A part of this strategy includes dubbing a videotape of Osama bin Laden saying he hates America but loves Brian Lewis. This strategy gains Mays even more points in the polls.

As voting day draws closer, Mays eventually learns the reason why he was chosen as the party candidate, fires some disloyal campaign operatives (although they reconciled with him afterwards), and chooses his brother as his running mate. He later has a debate with his opponent in which he manages to win the crowd over by speaking truth about the American life. Finally, Mays ends up winning the election and the presidency. The film ends with a shot of Mount Rushmore with Mays Gilliam's head added, complete with bling.



Rock said in HBO First Look that he got the idea from the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, who chose Geraldine Ferraro — a woman — as his running mate. The Democrats knew they had little chance of defeating Ronald Reagan, but selected Ferraro in hopes of gaining female support.

Part of the presidential debate is a verbatim repeat of Monty Python's Argument Clinic.



Head of State received generally negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film maintains a score of 31% approval rating from critics, with the critical consensus reading, "Head of State squanders its potentially ripe premise with watered-down satire and formulaic gags." On Metacritic, the film maintains a score of 44/100.

Roger Ebert, writing for Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film 3/4 stars, writing that it's "an imperfect movie, but not a boring one and not lacking in intelligence."[3]


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