I did some informal research about why non-black people don’t see movies with predominantly black casts and many of the responses I received were that the films aren’t marketed to them. That is, in their daily lives non-black moviegoers are not bombarded with advertisements to go see a particular black film in the way that say, a black moviegoer might be because of their social location. Or maybe the websites that non-black moviegoers visit don’t have advertisements for black films. Furthermore, reviews of black films are buried so that you must search for them to find—which means you had to know about the film first. The latter is what one respondent to my informal survey said. I took this survey prior to opening weekend for “Baggage Claim” and the respondent stated, “Almost all the media I consume is geared at white audiences and the only place I read movie reviews is NYTimes.com, where I had to dig a bit to even find ‘Baggage Claim.’ It was given a two-paragraph review, not the star spot that went to ‘Don Jon,’ a white romantic comedy.” This respondent also cosigned with the sentiments of another respondent who said she doesn’t see more black romantic comedies because she thinks that there will be a cultural subtext that she’ll miss and it’ll make the movie less meaningful. To these two young, white women, black romantic comedies have the potential of shutting out a white audience based on the assumption that it traffics in a cultural subtext that isn’t accessible to white people. This sentiment echoes some of the findings in Weaver’s study which indicated that producers are hesitant to cast minorities in race-neutral romantic roles because the white audience will perceive the film as “not for them.” The study goes on to say, “…but White audiences perceive romantic films with minorities as “not for them” because they seldom see minorities in race-neutral romantic roles. But this “not for them” seems to be based on presumption and not purposeful selective exposure to black films. White audiences may assume that a film is “not for them” but until they get up and out to see the film they will never know it is actually for them. Not “for them” as in it will teach them some lesson about the black lived-experience but that it will show them that the struggle to find love and meaning is a shared struggle and a universal experience of humanity.
I agree with what USC Professor Todd Boyd, chair for the study of race and popular culture and professor of critical studies said, “Black people do the same things that other people do…It’s not so much a deeper message as it is a reflection of humanity in a society that has not always visualized or valued black humanity.” The common denominator between black and white romantic comedies is that they are both about the search for love. Actually there are two common denominators, humanity and love. The pursuit of love, be it philial, agape, or eros is a concern of humanity. It is not just the concern of pretty white ingénues, strong black females, nerdy white guys, or commitment-phobic black men, but of Asians, South Asians, Africans and [email protected], among others. The pursuit of love isn’t just about love as it relates to marriage but love as a guiding principle of life. Love that connects family, friends, strangers, and humanity to each other. The binary we set up in terms of black and white love in cinema can short sight our vision of love in reality, making love appear to be a race-themed issue. I’ve heard people say, “Black love is beautiful,” but I don’t think they realize the limits it places on love–especially if they believe God is love. I’m trying to avoid being trite by saying that love is colorblind but I think I have to go there for the sake of this particular discourse. As it concerns the visions of love that we support in the media, that which we take in repeatedly can become our reality. It is no wonder that in some parts of the country and the world, interracial dating is still frowned upon. We have created this monster by perpetuating images of intraracial relationships as normative in the media and then we make interracial relationships the subject of controversy and complication, bracketing the power of love to break through all of this–“Something New,” the interracial love rom-com is the perfect example of this.
In order for us to really see something new it will require us to step out of our comfort zones. For people not to assume a film is “not for them” or “race-themed” because one race is predominant in the film–because after all, we haven’t called the thousands of white rom-coms, “white supremacist love stories.” Many black women have rushed to see Sandra Bullock fumble and flail toward love because we wanted to see a love story, not a white love story, just a love story. Shouldn’t many white women rush to see “The Best Man Holiday” or “Baggage Claim” because they too want to see a great love story? Not a black love story, not a race-themed movie, but a love story. Any reminder of the power of love should be a must-see movie regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. It is time for Hollywood producers to have the courage to consistently cast non-white actors in so-called “race neutral roles” and risk temporary discomfort so that their films will look more like reality than white-washed fairytale. And it is time for people to acknowledge that the black experience is not monolithic and, in the words of Professor Boyd, “Not every black person has lived a heroic life, died a tragic death or interacted with famous people in a subservient capacity.” Black romantic comedies are worth seeing because they bind us together in the search for love, that which is one of our highest calls in humanity according to scripture. To love our neighbors as ourselves in the context of cinematic portrayal is to love their images of love as much as we love our own images of love and recall what it is that we have in common, love and humanity.