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E.C. Henry

I agree, now IS the time for a GREAT romantic comedy with two black/African Americans as its leads.

Yes, we can.

I can't believe it, now you've got me saying it too, Billy.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Hmmm

I have to say I think your whole premise is flawed here. As a white British observer of American films and TV I have always found it bizarre how rarely an African American appears on screen without their African American background being mentioned. Can you imagine if every time you watch a show or film with white people in it, Plymouth Rock gets a mention in the script? Why can't Americans just write good parts and hire black actors to play some of them? Why do you assume every appearance of a black actor warrents a reference to their skin colour? The assumption that there's something inherently different about African Americans that warrants a totally fresh take on the rom com is akin to saying you want to see something challenging. Why are they so different, so foreign to you, that this problem presents itself? Barack put it excellently himself in his DMC speech in 04: (I"m paraphrasing) A black kid reading a book is not acting white. Writers need to get over colour issues because they're not so much barometers of culture as its creators. If the election of Barack says anything it's got to be "let's stop talking about colour now!" surely Americans can now grasp this: the old dinner table conversation of "how remarkable" is over.

mernitman

EC: Right on, bro.

Welcome, Hmmm -- But my entire premise isn't flawed; it's that you seem to have entirely misunderstood it.

Nowhere in this post do I say or suggest that we need "a totally fresh take on the rom com" or that "every appearance of a black actor warrants a reference to their skin colour." On the contrary -- and in this, the premise of my post is actually in complete agreement with you -- I'm asking, why aren't black actors cast in the traditional roles of mainstream romantic comedies? Indeed, why DON'T Americans "just write good parts and hire black actors to play some of them?"

On the other hand, I think it's naive (and presumptuous) of you to say that we should "stop talking about color" as if the entire history of racism and civil rights has somehow magically disappeared overnight with Barack's election.
Barack, as I understand him (e.g. his famous speech on race, 3-18-08), of course wants us to move forward. But he also acknowledges that there are unique aspects to black culture and the black American experience. Certainly movie casting should be, in a general sense, color blind -- that's the tacit given of my post -- but simultaneously, why can't black culture finds its own expression (as it does, for example, in "She's Gotta Have It") in romantic comedies on the contemporary mainstream screen?

And as for what "surely Americans can now grasp," I'd respectfully suggest that Great Britain continues to have its own difficulties in grappling with these issues. Hope is a wonderful thing; hope is what I'm expressing in this post. But realities do need to be acknowledged as well.

Christian H.

@Hmmmm,
I think you're taking this too seriously. I think it was an honest attempt at determining why it happened in real life first.

I would say it does have to do with writers looking for funny black stereotypes instead of funny American stereotypes.

The "acting white" thing is a stereotype we blacks put on ourselves not the other way around.

I personally am writing a cross-culture rom com right now that I hope will be interesting. By cross-culture I mean a white woman and a black one.

I do agree with Billy about Gabrielle Union, though there are a few others who would do well.

A big problem is the influx of rappers who can't act and are not "mainstream" enough.

But then too many actors in general are method types, not character types, so even rom coms have a hard time with on-screen chemistry (it's just a movie).

Hopefully, Obama's election will pave the way for more men like him, cognizant of America's issues as a whole. I mean, we don't need anymore "Notorious'."

Fronnie Lewis aka F. Leegh Lewis

As an African American female I see black couples in love all the time, but rarely in the movies. My favorites on your list of black romantic comedies: “Coming to America,” “Preacher’s Wife,” and “She’s Gotta Have It.”

There is one recent film I think you should consider adding to your list. It is “Something New.” This romantic comedy blew through the theaters so fast in 2006 I did not get a chance to see it. However, it has become quite popular with my friends and my sister on Cable TV and DVD.

In fact, many of my black female friends and my sister love this film so much they watch it over and over again. Interestingly, the focus is an interracial romance between two professionals. She’s a corporate executive and he’s a landscape architect. She’s black and he’s white. I think what makes this film a favorite with many black females is that the issues and situations ring true for those of us in the middle class.

As a writer, professional black couples like the Obamas are prominent in my work. I’ve sold one book and I’m working on a second. Also, I am polishing a draft of my spec black romantic comedy screenplay. Now that the Obamas are on the world stage, hopefully, that will open some minds and some doors.

Jim

I've thought for a long time that what I call "The Haysbert Effect" was one of the biggest bumps for Obama. America has gotten used to Dennis Haysbert playing:
a. A President (on 24): strong, decisive, wise, good
b. Trustworthy enough to sell insurance
c. On "The Unit" as strong, decisive, smart, good family man, sexy, beautiful...
Oddly, I don't think we ever felt this good about Cliff Huxtable. The clown doesn't always get to sit at the table with the good silver, somehow, maybe?

third world girl

Something New actually falls into your Where is the Black Mr. Right since it's another inter-racial teaming. I think you ask a really good question here, Billy though I think, despite the paucity of numbers, you've got a pretty decent list. (Tried doing this with Latino comedies and didn't get very far.)

They're three for me that stand out: Love Jones, Love and Basketball and The Best Man...though Love and Basketball is something of a hybrid as it has the sports angle as well.

What's stopping black rom-coms these days? I don't think it's actors. There's a host of very watchable black romantic leads. I just think it's a question of what studios think we want to watch/ what's working at the box office right now.

For a split second around Love Jones in the late 90s, they were a cluster of black rom-coms, The Wood, How Stella Got Her Groove Back , Brown Sugar in'02 was probably the last of these... but now I think studios assume we've migrated towards comedy-drama hybrids like Deliver Us from Eva and Why Did I Get Married, given the success of the Tyler Perry brand.

And it's easier to figure you'll get a better return on your investment from a black gangsta movie, church comedy or broad slapstick farce.

But hopefully a black rom-com will come out despite the odds and do great business and then everyone and their momma will be trying to replicate it. I know I'm hungry for it and I would love to see our actors get to do something a little different.

JamminGirl

I agree with the british guy, the focus is too much on skin colour.
I think the problem is that you might be viewing these films with preconcieved notions, and as such, have a clouded view of them.

I have seen critics writings on "Daddy's little girls" and was amazed at how quickly people pounced on the film for being one of Tyler Perry's than on the story itself. One critic (a white guy, I might add) even went as far as criticising the audience as being single over 30 black women living vicariously through the medium.
I think (white) writers, indeed white america, need to stop impose their notion of what is, or what should be, on black films. Instead, try to take them at face value and open up yourself to being entertained.

Chris

I'd argue that Coming To America is much closer to the genre than The Nutty Professor. But, that's preference.

I think worse than the lack of black Rom-Coms is a shunning of black actresses throughout Hollywood. I know it sounds strange, but most leading black women are bi-racial. Halle Berry, Rosario Dawson

We can cut Mariah (bi-racial) and Whitney from the lead list, their stars are mostly faded now. And Queen Latifah is finally becoming a lead, but I worry that it's simply because she's viewed as "unattractive" enough (and she is a beautiful woman, imo) to not be threatening. Gabrielle Union, who is talented and shockingly stunning, has for a long time been on the cusp, and for some reason (either a lack of quality roles being available or something else) has never been able to graduate to a mainstream lead.

Thandie Newton, Aisha Tyler, Lisa Bonet? Does even a quarter of America know those names?

I mean, Jumpin' Jack Flash, a non-rom-com where Whoopie Goldberg happens to also fall in love in a way where the audience doesn't have to think too long about interracial relationships, is almost 25 years old! And yet in a lot of ways its still progressive.

I don't think Hollywood is racist. I think they understand that black actresses don't perform well at the box office. And maybe that says something about America, maybe not.

Or it could just be black cinema shooting itself in the foot. If a movie comes out with black leads, white America immediately says "oh, that's a black culture movie, I won't get it."

I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, food for thought. Prove me wrong, I beg you.

mernitman

Christian: I have the same hope for the post-Obama movie era.

Fronnie: I'll look for that film... and for your books and films to come, as well.

Jim: I think it may've had more to do with Huxtable being more the teddy-bearish dad, whereas we like our Presidents more in the dignified/macho mode.

Third World Girl: Absolutely, that early '90s moment seemed to be the cusp of a wave that never entirely broke. LOVE JONES is my personal fave of the three. And I'm with you in our hopes for the next step.

Welcome, JamminGirl: I think you're right about certain (white) writers and their biases. In the case of me and my post (I'm trying not to be defensive here), I dunno... What are my preconceived notions, and what's clouding my perception, specifically? What view am I supposedly imposing?
Asian, German, Indian, whatever -- I'm moved and entertained by movies regardless of their ethnicity. So... What are the great romantic comedies featuring black leads, which I've missed? I'd sincerely like to see them.

Chris: Far from proving you wrong, I'd essentially agree. I'm honestly flummoxed by the lack of better roles (rom-com or whatever) for the actresses we've cited (and Nia Long, and Sanaa Lahan, et al), while only Beyoncé -- because she's a proven commodity, doing musical roles -- seems to be breaking through this barrier. But I think we ought to acknowledge that great roles for women, PERIOD, are heard to come by, for white actresses as well...

Cecil

Everyone has covered pretty much what I would have said, but I think one of the main problems when it comes to making movies with African-Americans in them is, it starts with "There's this black couple or person" which leads to stereotypes.

Even when a movies is written with no particular actor in mind, once an African-American is cast, the script has to be "punched up" if that character is the lead.

And let's be honest, the way Hollywood works once a movie get green lite, if there is an African-American character they pull from the same pool of actors because they can open a movie.

Nia Long and Taye Diggs, while both good actors, if cast as leads, wouldn't make the money hollywood is looking for.

And now I must go write my Nia Long and Taye Diggs rom-com because despite all that was said. I'm not giving up!

JamminGirl

Billy, often we don't realize that our own perceptions of reality based on our own experiences and point of views we've come to accept. This causes us to frame other (people's) situations in a way that matches what we're used to. If the situations do not match we then conclude that something is wrong with those people(or situations).

In other words, we are limited by our experiences and points of view.
Today I was watching the view and Barbara Walters commented on how beautiful and perfect the Obama family looks. She however prefaced the comment with the fact that ("...and I may get in trouble here, but I'll go ahead and say it anyway", she prefaced) she(and most white people, she says) hadn't such a black family since the Huxtables.
Naturally Sherry was offended and Whoopie remained stonefaced silent, but knowing where their breads were buttered, the buried their true reactions.
I would say the reasons for such perceptions are because filmakers, including screenplay writers, have both wittingly and unwittingly set in society's mind(ironically, in copycat scriptwriters minds as well since many feed on themselves) a picture of the ultimate and who represents the ideal. Those people are not the masculinzed, unsexy black woman who may be more of a big mamma caricature, than a desireable wife.
Of course, the Obama's black reality has turned that notion on its head and now it has people in media in a bit of a dilema...
My thing is, you're a rom-com writer. Write a script that you would consider traditional characterizations would fit, but instead of using the blond-haired, blue-eyed protagonist, use the brown skinned, round hips one instead...

mernitman

Go for it, Cecil, please: go for it!

JamminGirl: Interesting take, and I do hear you. Your closing advice is good for any aspiring rom-commer.

Christina

There's this new indie "Medicine for Melancholy" that's been getting a fair amount of buzz recently. It's a romance, but I think it's pretty light on comedy.

I too, am always on the lookout for great black romances. "Love & Basketball," "The Best Man," and "Boomerang" certainly top my list. I also have a special place in my heart for "House Party," which is more comedy than romance, but I love it just the same!

mernitman

Christina: I thought about HOUSE PARTY, which after all is a teen rom-com.

But hey, want to share with you and all, a link Erica Kennedy sent me that speaks to the whole "how it happens that we don't get the great black rom-coms" issue:
http://www.theroot.com/views/flipping-script

Sol

Pretty disheartening article. I mean, it's great that the screenwriter got to see his work produced, but...that really sucks.

Sabs

What about some of the Tyler Perry movies like Meet The Browns or Why did I Get Married? Yes, some of it is serious, but three's plenty of humor and romance in those two movies as well.

Rachel

Thank you! I'm watching Deliver Us From Eva right now...and was wondering why aren't there any black (up-front) faces in movies like He's Just Not That Into You or the upcoming movie Valentine's Day??? I love romantic comedies and I would love to see more faces that look like mine!!! I'm an African American female happily married to an AA male for 8 years. We have no kids yet, and we're both professionals of sorts (Speech Pathologist/Mailman). P.S. we're both 33 yrs old...oh and one dog. ;)Point is ghetto/hood movies don't appeal to all black people...we like romance, comedy,and science fiction!! Hey, I'm just like you...

mernitman

Rachel: You're so welcome, and it's good to hear from you. I, too, was appalled that HJNTIY featured no black faces - despite being set in Baltimore(?!). In this new decade, let's hope the industry starts to get with the program.

Jane

See my blog on black and interracial love at http://muchsaidbyjane.com

eshowoman

Producers and distributors are the primary arbiters of what we see at the multiplex. They are practically all white, do not value black audiences and will only make or book films with familiar stereotypes. They feel that films with white stars are universal but black films will only appeal to an audience with limited cash to spend. There are a great variety of black films that never get wide screen release because of their racism. For example, Valentine's Day is supposed to be the perfect date movie, but the only person who looks like me is the "sassy" dateless black woman. A new wedding movie is about to come out staring America Ferrara. Her groom is a black man When black leading men have a romantic lead she is usually a Hispanic or mixed race.These films tell me that I am undateable and unlovable. This is why despite my critical reservations I would rather watch a Tyler Perry movie than any mainstream Hollywood crap. Even though Perry's films make millions at the box office or the fact Obama's are a loving couple will change the practices of those who have the power to put black love on the silver screen.

best romance movies

A lot of people don't really see Eddie Murphy as the romantic leading man type. I mean, he's a great actor much like Jim Carey, but because of their past successful comedy films, fans are always expecting the obvious from them- which is to be funny. I remember when Jim Carey won the people's choice for best actor in a comedy or musical- he said "Man, I thought I was in a drama" during an interview backstage. His face showed disappointment. he tired to cover it up with the classic "Jim Carey grin.

Funny Love Quotes

There is so much to think about here. But I have to say the President and his wife set a great example for us all.

mernitman

Funny LQ: Absolutely.

Rob in L.A.

First of all, mega-kudos for your Gabrielle Union shout-out. I took in “Breakin’ All the Rules” primarily to see her as the female lead in a rom-com (and secondarily to be mesmerized by her winsome physiognomy). Too bad the movie was only so-so.

Second, I would say that the “last frontier” of the rom-com, at least race-wise, would be an Asian American romantic male lead (for a comedy or otherwise). While there are numerous examples of Asian male romantic leads from films overseas, my Asian guy friends here in the U.S. are understandably grumpy over not being able to “see themselves” in Hollywood’s overwhelmingly non-Asian leading men. Couple this with the considerable number of films in which a white leading man ends up with an Asian female love interest (from “Sayonara” to “Broken Trail”), and they can see this lack of representation as a kind of emasculation.

The only Asian American rom-com from Hollywood that I can think of is the musical “Flower Drum Song” (1961). For a long time, I’ve though that a new (successful) rom-com with Asian American co-leads would do a lot to offset any perceptions of “emasculation.” Here’s hoping that America’s growing diversity and growing new media can help remedy this situation before too long. Love comes in all colors.

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