Black Movie Angst

The cast of The Best Man Holiday

Full disclosure: A month ago, I wrote something for my blog about why I wasn’t interested in watching a Best Man sequel. The piece, though, was less about the movie itself than the fact that I think many of us use nostalgia as a crutch to avoid investing in new art/artists.

Even then, I admitted I’d probably see it. And, when the feedback it received was overwhelmingly positive---even from people usually snarky/skeptical about everything---this curiosity turned to anticipation. I wanted to see it. I wanted to laugh and cry feel good about staring at Nia Long for 120 minutes. I didn’t expect it to be great. But I wanted it to be good.

And it didn’t happen.

Yes, I laughed a couple times. And yes, a couple scenes towards the end made me a little verklempt. But I just couldn’t get past the fact that it was more science fiction/Hallmark orgy than romantic comedy.

I left the theater with two thoughts:

1. “Did I just see the same movie everyone has been raving about?”

And, most importantly...

2. “What the hell is wrong with me?”

I really wanted to like this movie. Really, really. And since it didn’t happen, I started to feel bad about it. Ashamed, even. Why? Well, aside from Love Jones (which I loved), I’ve been pretty unenthused about most of the movies in the bougie Black romantic canon. (This includes The Best Man, Love and Basketball, Brown Sugar, Just Wright, Why Did I Get Married, etc.) But, a few “White” romantic comedies made in that same period (Chasing Amy and High Fidelity, in particular) are among my favorite movies.

Was this my litmus test? Had I become one of “those” types of Black folks? The ones who laugh harder at jokes written by White writers, not because they relate to them more, but because since a White person wrote them, the jokes must be “better?” The ones who are unnecessarily hard on and critical of Black things, Black movies included?

After a couple days, I found an answer.

No. And yes.

No because, while there are dozens of Black-themed movies I didn’t like and had/have no interest in seeing, there are many I liked. Some I loved. Which mirrors my feelings about movies in general. Most are forgettable. Some are good. An even smaller percentage are great. But most are somewhere between “that was okay, I guess” and “eh.” It stands to reason that Black movies would follow that same trend. In fact, when thinking about the three Black-themed movies I saw at the theater this year, they did. One (Fruitvale Station) was great. I thought the other two (The Best Man Holiday and 42) were not. It’s not that I’m more critical of Black movies. I’m just not less critical of them than I am on other movies.

That said, I admit I may have been a bit more critical of The Best Man Holiday than I would have been with a “White” movie with a similar theme. When a movie features young, urban, professional Black people---basically, people like me---and receives praise for creating realistic and relatable characters and themes, I am going to be sensitive to the realness and relatability. If this is supposed to be some facsimile of the types of lives led by the type of people I know, and everyone’s saying they get it right, I want to see if they got it right. And, when it contains too many things that just could not have ever happened in the same bougie Black universe I occupy---like married men sharing explicit sexual details about their wives (Why don't movies ever get Black male conversations right???)---I can’t help but notice it.

This ambivalence may not make sense, but it’s a product of the paradox that often engulfs Black people who enjoy consuming and critiquing pop culture. Your Blackness can be both the main reason why you wanted to like something and the main reason why you didn’t.

You question your criticism. You ask “Since so few Black movies make it to the screen, should I be honest or provide some type of appreciation affirmative action?” You wonder if it’s even possible to be honest when critiquing work based on people you could know in real life. Even as I write this, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to continue. Should I care if this adds to the conversation about the creation and consumption of Black movies, or should I not concern myself with that question?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I do know that when the next sequel to The Best Man comes out in 14 more years (The Best Man Viagra Commercial? The Best Man Menopause?), I’ll probably won’t want to see it. But I probably will, anyway.