Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Let's hear it for the black romcom queens - Guardian.co.uk

Let's hear it for the black romcom queens

Hollywood makes plenty of romantic comedies with black stars – not that you ever hear much about it
Naomie Harris in My Last Five Girlfriends.
Naomie Harris in My Last Five Girlfriends.
The romantic comedy season is almost at an end, as it makes way for summer's action blockbusters. But of the dozen or so romcoms that have been released this year in the UK, only one has had a black lead – Naomie Harris in Julian Kemp's My Last Five Girlfriends. (Two, if you count Disney's The Princess and The Frog.) US film site Gordon and the Whale has released a list of contenders for the title of new Romantic Comedy Queen – but there are no black actors. Where are Sanaa Lathan, Gabrielle Union and Thandie Newton?
  1. My Last Five Girlfriends
  2. Production year: 2008
  3. Country: UK
  4. Cert (UK): 12A
  5. Runtime: 87 mins
  6. Directors: Julian Kemp
  7. Cast: Brendan Patricks, Cecile Cassel, Edith Bukovics, Jane March, Kelly Adams, Naomie Harris
  8. More on this film
The studios' reluctance to cast black leads seems strange when you consider that the romcom with the biggest ever opening weekend was Will Smith's Hitch, in 2005. But Smith is an exception. He has acted in pretty much every genre and, crucially, has made money in all of them. What's notable is that Smith's Hitch co-star was not black but Cuban-American Eva Mendes. What is wrong with a black/black pairing? Do audiences not want to see love stories between black people?
"Black romcoms aren't being made at the rate they used to be," says Joanna Abeyie, entertainment editor at Pride magazine. "But many people went to see the all-black Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in the West End recently. Maybe it's something that's more accepted on stage."
And yet black love stories are the same as anyone else's. Black romcoms comply with all the rules of the genre: boy meets girl, obstacles pop up, "hilarious" misunderstandings ensue, an epiphany, a kiss, professions of love, end credits. Movies such as The Wood (1999), The Best Man (1999), Brown Sugar (2002) and Breakin' All The Rules (2004) are classics, but are known mostly to black audiences. (Brown Sugar took $27m in the US, compared to Hitch's $178m.)
Most of these films come from the same studios that release mainstream romcoms, yet many are never released in the UK. At best, they get short runs on few screens. I went to see The Wood with my sister in 1999. Our local cinema was packed; The Wood was on for one day only. And as a 17-year-old, it was good to see black actors showing us that sometimes young love can last.
The latest example is Just Wright, starring Queen Latifah and rapper Common, due out in the US in a fortnight. It would be nice not to have to wait for the DVD to see it here. After all, love stories transcend race.

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