Like many race-themed [read: Black] people, I was ecstatic when I heard a sequel to the Best Man (1999) was in the works. My race-themed friends and I made plans to see the movie together and posted our excitement to social networking sites months in advance of the film’s release. We often discussed how much we missed the movies of the mid/late 1990s and early 2000s [Waiting to Exhale (1995), Set It Off (1996), Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996), Love Jones (1997), Soul Food (1997), How Stella Got Her Grove Back (1998), Love & Basketball (2000), Brown Sugar (2002), etc.], so to say we were counting the days until the The Best Man Holiday hit theaters is an understatement. On Friday, November 15th, I headed to the 10:00am showing of the movie with my partner and a friend. We laughed. We cried. We engaged in self-reflection. And we left the movie chattering away about the fabulousness we had seen. [And not one of us mentioned race during this chatter.] I immediately wanted to write a review, but I held off because I did not want spoil it for all the Facebook friends I knew were heading to see the movie throughout the weekend. So I posted a general comment about the film:
I had grown tired of caricatured stereotypical blackness and overt/covert sexism and misogyny in film, television and music. I personally needed a film that was not centered on hyper-stereotypical images of Black people. I personally needed a film that did not stir the pot of sexual trauma and mask it in ‘she wanted it’ patriarchal excuse-making. I personally needed a feel good film about everyday life…that just happened to include an all Black cast. I personally needed to see THIS wonderful cast of beautiful Black people on-screen. [Yes, I was a little thirsty for this film.]
As I surveyed my Facebook timeline throughout the weekend, I noticed that most of the reviews of the film were posted by Black women. There were a few Black men that posted as well, but most of the reviews came from Black women who praised the movie for tackling some real issues and pushing us to the brink of emotion. This was good, but what about people of other racial/ethnic groups? What about the perspectives of more men? What about older and younger people? This movie had something for all. A second post to my Facebook page urged EVERYONE to go see it no matter their race, gender, age, etc. The storyline is universal, and the acting is great. Then I read a post about USAToday writer, Scott Bowles, that changed the course of the conversation about the film with one headline: “‘Holiday nearly beats ‘Thor’ as race-themed film soars”. Damn, Scott. Really? FAIL. There was the attempt to clean up the title with a revision that read: “‘Holiday nearly beats ‘Thor’ as ethnically diverse films soar”. This, too, was a fail. Finally, the article was revised again to read: “‘Best Man Holiday’ nearly beats might ‘Thor'”. [Right. That’s all that needed to be said in the first place.] As I read the various blogs, tweets, etc. commenting on how mainstream media [read: White] continues view Black people in television, film, and music as inherently race-themed, I was reminded of a few things about our society’s issues with race/racism and mainstream media’s explanations of/expectations of Black people:
- Mainstream media is proof that race and racism are indeed woven into the fabric of America.
- Mainstream media undeniably celebrates the visibility of Black people in film, television, and music as long as stereotypes are confirmed. The fact that Black actors and actresses are good at portraying characters that are not drug dealers, gang bangers, strippers, or welfare queens seems astonishing to them.
- Mainstream media still does not understand the power of Black dollars and the desire of Black people [and other underrepresented groups] to see ourselves on-screen in roles that are not representative of caricatured stereotypical blackness.
- Mainstream media does not understand that characters that are professional, wealthy, middle class, married, parenting, etc. are not monopolized by whiteness. Whiteness is not the default experience.
- Mainstream media continues to be surprised by the normalcy of blackness. We Black people do live ‘normal’ lives and experience friendship, love, compassion, faith, struggle, and resilience just like any other racial or ethnic group. [And these are the main themes of the movie, which I thought were pretty universal.]
I am inclined to believe that Scott Bowles did not actually watch the film. If he did, his description of the film as race-based had to be intentional – and that is troubling. If he did not, his description of the film as race-based as a mere result of seeing a predominantly Black cast in advertisements tells me something about how he views Black actors and actresses – and that is also troubling. Scott Bowles [and any other person who does not understand the significance of mainstream media’s continuous attempts to downplay the talent of Black artists (i.e., GQ Magazine, get you some…) and people of all underrepresented groups], I’m all for calling a movie race-themed when the basic premise of the movie actually deals with issues related to race. Django Unchained is a race-themed movie. 12 Years A Slave is a race-themed movie. The Best Man Holiday is not. The suggestion that Holiday is a race-themed film places it in a category that shapes the perspectives of non-Black viewers unfamiliar with the film or its prequel. It also could be argued that the description of the film as race-themed was a subliminally intentional attempt to curb the excitement surrounding the film and limit its viewing audience. [No, that is not a stretch. It is possible.]
Mainstream media, I’m not here for your continued attempts to marginalize of Black artists, entertainers and people. WE are not here for this.
But we are here to see more of these great actors on-screen [Fourteen years later, every cast member looks absolutely wonderful!]. Malcolm D. Lee, we are excited about the possibilities of a third installation. The Best Man Holiday ended with the ultimate teaser [playboy ready for marriage], so please do not keep us waiting another 14 years [Besides, I made a bet about the plot of the next movie, and I need to collect ASAP.]. We are thirsty for more Black fabulousness on the big screen. Quench us…