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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Talking Point: Good Black & Ethnic Minority Rom-Coms Deserve More Love

By Waiching 

Romantic Comedies aren't one of my favourite types of movies, but if and when they are done right and I feel and sense that connection with the male/female would-be coupling & star pairing, then, by all means, I will enjoy these movies more. The rom-com subgenre is one where you either love or hate a great deal; it is a sub-genre of film, more specifically comedy, that gets a lot of flak and whereby general audiences and critics turn their noses at, for various and obvious reasons. Most of which their grievances are understandable, especially to me. 

Besides that most of these films for me are frankly terrible (and they are mostly but for a few exceptions), too cringey and overdo it with the romance element that borders on diabetes sick, when the writers of these movies approach these stories in ways that make me drone and roll my eyes, it makes me nauseous of them. Which is why I usually dislike most of these films. Or be it how most of them turn out. 

Romantic comedy films and romantic comedy is one of the most segregated movie genres in and around Hollywood, and with these movies with ethnic minorities they are rarely marketed properly towards mainstream audiences and because of that, they are targeted towards audiences of a particular race. With interracial rom-coms, it is still considered a taboo thing to see, which given we are in the 21st century is extraordinary: interracial marriage and relationships are much more openly accepted today in real-life, but this is something that is not reflected, nor embraced as much on the big screen. 

There are arguments raised that Black female characters fit into archetype stereotypes that are perpetuated in the media within romantic comedies, such as the angry Black woman and that comedy itself and watching Black people making fools of themselves is as good as what Black audiences deserve much more than watching them fall in love and have good, positive relationships. I also don't believe that all Black rom-coms are terrible, there are a few good ones, much like with general, mainstream rom-coms. A few of my favourite examples include Breakin' All The Rules, Deliver Us From Eva, and Eddie Murphy's 80s and 90s offerings, Coming To America & Boomerang

Coming to America fulfils every trope in rom-coms yet it is not on the list of rom-coms, because it is not a full-on romantic film and is more comedic, which I find is sad because it follows the same conventions. It is the 'Pretty Woman' of Black rom-coms with the prince and the pauper, although Coming to America arrived 2 years prior to Garry Marshall's worldwide hit. If Coming to America had a White cast, then no doubt, it would have been generally received and accepted as a rom-com. 

And it is because of the lack of recognition, as well as lack of high quality, financially successful Black rom-coms that Black rom-coms lack a Julia Roberts-, not in terms of an actress like herself, but an actress who is as financially bankable as someone like herself, as the face of Black rom-coms to steady the ship and to bring in those target audiences. But then one would look at Nia Long and Gabrielle Union: two very good actresses who could have been or should have been African-American's answer to Julia Roberts, with Union who starred and appeared in Two Can Play That Game, Deliver Us From Eva and Breakin' All The Rules as either the romantic false lead, plucky loser-in-love protagonist or budding love interestAs well as Queen Latifah & Garcelle Beauvais of The Jamie Foxx Show sitcom and they of whom deserve to be as successful and well-known as Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston. Halle Berry is also someone I had in mind and given her superstar status already if she had gone down the rom-com route or made predominately rom-com movies, I could definitely have seen her as someone who could fit that bill. She's been in Boomerang, Strictly Business, New Year's Eve and so it's not as if she is a stranger to or an unknown quantity in rom-coms.

(above: Gabriellle Union with Jamie Foxx in Breakin' All The Rules and far-right in Think Like a Man)

With Black movies and its characters falling into categories as slave-drivers or comic book superheroes and thus giving audiences something to rave about on an action-scale and appealing to male audiences these days, in terms of their human and emotional qualities and stories of how Black people love and as people acting like people in real-life and in relationships, this is not being depicted or be it not given opportunities for these situations to be seen. The very good to great rom-coms manage to do this, irrespective of the amount of money they pull in. 

Truthfully, there is not a lot of difference between White and Black rom-coms - the stories are universal and practically the same and by replacing the White actors with Black ones though, it shouldn't impact on the story, rather it is dependent on how they are received by the audience. Mind you, picturing a Black actress as Vivian in Pretty Woman in place of Julia Roberts in the role of a prostitute, would most certainly drum up accusations & negative stereotypes of that character evoking Black women as sex & money-hungry types. 

The formulaic nature of rom-coms means that one doesn't have to think long and hard as they try and connect the dots and see how they work. But with White rom-coms, unlike Black rom-coms, they are never hyper-sexualised, the women are far vulnerable; meanwhile, rom-coms with Black women feature women who are sex hungry, hypersexual, angry. Alas angry connotes confidence, strength and being sweet and nice is considered not good enough and they are seen as being submissive and weak. So, therefore, there are double-standards that makers of Black rom-coms take that although its done to differentiate themselves from mainstream rom-coms, it also seeks to reinforce and perpetuate those racist stereotypes that Blacks and African-Americans want nothing to do with them. 

The last successful Black rom-com was 2012's Think Like A Man, which grossed $12 million and usually success breeds more success and so even with that movie which did rather well, that should have been the springboard for studio execs to follow this up with more movies. But alas, this hasn't really happened and much like with Boomerang, Coming To America, The Best Man, Brown Sugar, aspirational Black characters falling in love and experiencing happy, romantic relationships with the other half, have largely remained a rarity and anonymity in mainstream film. The Will Smith effort, Hitch isn't classified and shouldn't be classified as a Black rom-com, not just because it wasn't marketed as one but because the lead character, Alex Hitchens falls in love with a latina played by Eva Mendes, thus making it more of a multi-racial rom-com. 

Love comes in all forms, involves different races and love is a universal thing that covers every demographic and despite not being an avid lover of these movies as stated earlier, seeing those stories come about and recognising that it takes dedication, patience and work for a relationship to work for the two people involved, rather than some mushy, sickly crap, & which do and offer something different that gains my attention, those are the types of romantic comedies I buy into more than the rest. 

As for the future of Black rom-coms and ethnic minority rom-coms, all it takes is one actor or be it actress to become that famous face that is synonymous with these types of movies. So famous they can help propel its image and recognition. Whoever that may be, for the sake of itself, it further seeks to underline and remind audiences that Blacks, as well as Asians, Latinos, gays & lesbians can have it all too, much like with their heterosexual White counterparts. 

For movies that emphasise the concept of love, Black and minority rom-coms deserve it, as in deserve more love and to be appreciated for making an effort, without having to shout from the rooftops to make themselves heard.

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