It Is Time For Some New Ideas In Black Romantic Comedies

July 16, 2014  |  

It appears that I am not the only one, who was just not feeling a sequel to Think Like A Man.

In the piece entitled, Why Think Like A Man Too is proof that Hollywood fails black audiences, Dominick Mayers explains how despite Hollywood’s sudden interest in black film over the last five years, very few of these films are “particularly original” or even ambitious in plot. More specifically, how Think Like A Man 2 felt just like The Hangover for black people and how Ride Along, which came out earlier this year was just like Beverly Hills Cop and how the Best Man Holiday was like every Tyler Perry film he has managed to don a dress in.

Mayers also writes about this formulaic and predictable treatment of black films by Hollywood:

In this respect Think Like A Man Too is all the more disconcerting. The vestiges of progress (a film with an almost all-black cast, the follow-up to a sleeper hit, coming out during the hottest time of year for big-ticket movie releases) are ultimately undercut by a film that’s at turns derivative of already existing films, as though assuming the target audience would only watch The Hangover if Kevin Hart were in it, and centered around telling the least culturally specific stories possible.

Grantland’s Wesley Morris puts this imperative in focus: “No one who ends a movie with Hart fighting another character for money that’s rained from an actual Steve Harvey slot machine cares about charges of literalism and redundancy — only getting more.”

It’s not that these films are just bad — or derivative. It’s that they’re homogenizing the black film to a point where anybody could sit down and enjoy it, lest audiences be asked to relate to characters that may not be completely identical to their own lives and ethos. And in a film market where 12 Years a Slave underperformed, where the towering Fruitvale Station barely saw a prominent release, this isn’t a solution, or really even progress. It’s a means of avoiding larger issues of audience identification.

If this still seems like it’s not an issue, let’s speak simply: it means we’ll keep getting more phoned-in Kevin Hart movies. And nobody wants that.”

I agree: death to the black romantic comedy – or at least a nice long moratorium until we figure out how to make the topic fresh again. As of right now, the genre of film is stale and overwrought with cliches.

I think Hart is funny; however, I agree: I have no interest of seeing Hart in a billion and one films, doing the whole “I’m little so laugh at me” routine. And I pretty much penned a piece expressing this very point before. I have also written several pieces about the lack of diversity in Hollywood-backed black cinema. It’s what I was thinking when I wrote about the lack of adventurous black women with a passport in film and or as I wrote most recently, why we can’t have sexually liberated black women on television without it being a threat to our virtue?

But above all, it is the lack of originality in the black romantic comedy, which gets under my skin the most. I’m tired of seeing stories about the career-centered and power-hungry black woman and the struggling, no-good black man, which seems to plot every Tyler Perry production? How many times can we see sequels and remakes to black rom-com films we should have left in the 80s? Why are so many of these films devoid of anything, which is culturally black? And where are all the diverse faces of black love on screen?

The short answer is Netflix:

That’s where I found this unique piece of black cinema called Newlyweeds, which is basically about a couple love affair with each other – and the sticky icky. Yes, this film is a black stoner comedy. Written and directed by Shaka King, focuses on Lyle (Amari Cheatom) and Nina (Trae Harris), a young, unmarried couple living in Brooklyn whose penchant for pot gets in the way of their personal and romantic ambitions.

The film itself is okay. At some points, I wasn’t quite sure if this was supposed to be a comedy or a serious drama – and even as both, it didn’t quite flow as smoothly as perhaps the writer/director intended. However not since Medicine for Melancholy have I seen such diverse portrayals of black love and people on the screen. What’s cool about this film is their total lack of upward mobility. Like, Nina is no cold-hearted, high powered executive; instead she works as a tour guide in a museum. And while she is from an middle class background, Nina, with her long dreads, is constantly dreaming of a wanderer’s life abroad. And Lye, with his scruffy beard and unkempt afro, repos cheap rent-to-own furniture for a living. Neither seems to be hard-pressed about their status and succumbing to middle class values as money to these two, is only meant to get them from one aim to the next – in this case, buying weed.

Their personal aesthetic is only added by the cultural diversity of Brooklyn itself, which features a microcosm of characters representing just about every facet of black life – from the drug dealing hustler, who steals your weed money through the mail slot on the basement security door of brownstone, to the more stately and dignified blacks, who live like Cosby’s the Huxtables on the top floor. Lyle and Nina walk and talk like black Brooklyn. And unlike Think Like A Man (and its other counterparts, which have hit the big screen recently), these characters are not black people dressing up like white folks, instead this film embraces all the cultural uniqueness of what it can mean to be black and in love – while high.

What’s most interesting is that as unique a concept as Newlyweeds appears on paper, it is not the only piece of black cinema, particularly the black romance film, which has sought to tell a culturally rich and original story about black folks contemplating love. An Oversimplification of her Beauty is one. I’m Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks) is another. There is also Night Catches Us, Middle of Nowhere, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, Restless City, Big Words, Things I’ve Never Said and a whole host of other films.

Contrary to popular belief, black people do support our own. And there are very little doubts that the black community would take to these films in the same ways they take to the monotony of black rom-coms like Think Like A Man.  Thankfully Netflix appears to be at least willing to provide a platform to these independent features. However the problem has always been getting these films in places where the masses of black folks (as well as non-black folks, who just like good cinema) not only knows that they exist, but also has an opportunity to see them. And that can only happen when mainstream Hollywood expands its ideas of how they choose to envision black people and start offering their platforms to artistically diverse black content creators. And until that occurs, we will keep being fed the same old, tired and cultural-less romantic comedy plot and characters, which seem kind of written for white folks, but performed in blackface.

 

 

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