Why We’d Hate Coming To America If It Was Released Today

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Although there are Black movies (“Black movies” = “movies featuring Black people and/or Black stories”) that are better (Malcolm X, Glory, Do The Right Thing, etc), more important (The Color Purple, Shaft, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, etc), and even funnier (Undercover Brother, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, The Original Kings of Comedy, etc), none are as universally beloved by us as Coming to America. 

While it’s not definitely not loved by every single Black person, there’s no doubt it would appear on more of our favorite’s lists than any other Black film. There’s even less doubt that, if we took a vote, “Queen to Be” could replace “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as our national anthem.

Yet, after re-watching it last weekend for the 367234th time, something dawned on me: If this movie was released in 2014, it would not receive the same love. In fact, many of us would hate it. Not all of us, of course. Many would still enjoy it. But, considering today’s general mood about comedy — where certain types of humor seems to have to pass through a gauntlet of arbitrarily determined standards before considered socially acceptable — there would be so much negative pushback towards it that even the people who loved it would be loathe to publicly admit it.

The pushback would start on Facebook and #blacktwitter weeks before the movie was even released, as word about the plot and the people involved would begin to circulate.

“A White director making a comedy about Africa? #nocountryforoldappropriation”

“Apparently, Arsenio is in a wig during a scene. And a dress. I couldn’t make this sh*t up if I tried. Does everyone in Hollywood hate Black women?”

As the release date neared, and media people started to attend advance screenings, thinkpieces would start to formulate on Slate, The Root, Clutch, EBONY, Jezebel, and (admittedly) VSB.

Coming to America’s Big, Fat Africa Problem: What The Movie Gets Wrong About African Immigrants, And Why It’s So Upsetting 

Queen To Be? Not If She’s Dark: Coming to America’s Disturbing Colorism 

Lisa McDowell, Feminist or Fake?

Homies or Homie/Lover/Friends? Akeem and Semmi’s Very Peculiar Bond

From Mop to Fries in Three Years: On Slave Wages and Cleo McDowell 

Was it Selfish For Eddie and Arsenio To Play Multiple Characters Instead of Hiring More Black Actors?

By the time the movie was set to be released, there would be so many petitions and protests against it that the studio would pull it from the theaters. WorldStarHipHop would buy the rights to it, replace Shari Headley and Allison Dean with Erica Mena and Dutchess from Black Ink, and release it in six 15 minute long installments on their site.

I don’t know if there would be a sequel. Perhaps there would be one 14 years after the original film was released. Who knows? I don’t.

I do know, though, that no one would ever sing “Queen to Be” at their wedding.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

I Hated The Best Man Holiday…And I Feel Really Bad About It

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY on whether he’s more critical of Black movies than he is with other types of films)

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 BasketballBrown 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, never, ever, never 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.

(Read the rest at EBONY)

10 Reasons Why You Should See The Best Man Holiday From the VSB Who Has Actually Seen It

Yes, this again.

Yes, this again.

Last week, the wayward half of the VSB dream team wrote a post entitled, “Why I Really Don’t Want To See The Best Man Holiday (…Even Though I Probably Will)”. That Champ, what a card. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to Champ’s opinion when it comes to seeing Black movies (in particular), but I feel like taking Champ’s advice on Black movies is like taking clipper guard advice from Lebron James; well intentioned but seeking a second opinion isn’t a bad idea. Now why would I throw my partner-in-crime under the bus in such a fashion? Welll…

…if you all will remember, this is a man who saw Love Jones for the first time two years ago due to his ambivalence but ended up loving it, then because of said newfound love proceeded to yell fire in a crowded theater with the post that proved that they really never should have given you nwords the Internet. If I’m not mistaken, he has yet to finish watching The Best Man and has admitted to being less than enthused with most Black cinema. With all that being said, I think it’s safe to say that I’m the one who will most likely, know, show, and care about what’s going on in the world of Black cinema, even though he will eventually love it all anyway.

Which brings us back to the lecture at hand. Not only have I seen The Best Man Holiday already, I’ve seen it twice. And you know what, I thought it was good the first time and really liked it the second time around. But that’s not the point of this post. This isn’t a review. You don’t need a review. Most of you are going to see it anyway because 1) there really isn’t that much else available in the way of Black movies; and 2) most of us actually loved the original even if half of you mofos swear you don’t do sequels DESPITE seeing every Batman movie that’s come out in the past five years. And yes, Viriginia, The Dark Knight Rises IS A SEQUEL.

So because I’m in a benevolent mood, I’m going to do two things. 1) I’m going to give you 10 reasons why you should go see the movie, because I totally have 10 reasons; and 2) if you live in the DC/Baltimore area, I’m trying to take you to the movies. Actually if you live in DC I’m going to go with you. If you stay in the Bmore area, I’ll send you but you’re on your own homey. Homey don’t do Baltimore. Shots fired.

So let’s start with 10 reasons why you should see The Best Man Holiday without providing a single spoiler.

1. After seeing the new one and revisiting the original movie, Quentin is easily my favorite character out of the entire cast. Now this could be because he reminds me of me, but my man is a bundle of fun, wisdom, bad decisions, and he’s not afraid to be himself. And you know what, I like that, and you will too. My man is a basket full of kittens.

2. You really aren’t ready for the emotional rollercoaster that this movie will take you on. No, seriously. But you want to go along for this ride. After the last screening I attended, one of my guests said to me, “I will see this movie 20 more times if you have more free passes…P, let me know because I can’t wait to see it again!”

3. Seeing some of your favorite actors get…old…is a bit offputting. But what you realize is how much time and effort they put into keeping themselves Hollywood-ready. The youngest people in the cast are Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan…and they’re both 42. Morris Chestnutt is 44 but is outchea putting 20 year old’s to shame. Point is, if you’re lonely it’s good to have some folks to grow old with. And Melissa De Sousa (Shelby) is STILL bad as all hell. I mean good lawd.

4. So you remember how everybody in the first film was almost abnormally successful? I mean I come from a clique of homeys where every last one of us has at least a Master’s degree, with a couple lawyers, and a few Ph.D’s sprinkled in. But The Best Man had homeys coming from money, an accomplished writer, an NFL star, and potential high powered attorney who just wanted to help the kids. The curiosity in me wants to know if they managed to maintain that level of welloffedness…I mean somebody has to crash and burn right? Right? Most times we never get answers, but since this movie features the same folks some umpteen years later…we get answers…and I want them. As do you.

5. For the ladies, Morris Chestnut.

6. For the fellas, girl fight.

7. This is going to be an interesting reason but creep with me. Since Tyler Perry hit the scene, it seems like every Black non-hood pseudo mainstream movie is either Tyler Perry-esque, or goes way out of its way to NOT be Tyler Perry-esque. So it’s interesting to see a movie with a similar team take another crack at a movie that debuted before Tyler Perry stepped on the scene all crispy and clean. It’s almost impossible to watch movies now without drawing some parallels either in favor of or against TP-isms. Point here, for the movie buffs in you, I need to talk to everybody about the TP effect. And there are a few scenes that reaaaaaaaaaally tow that line.

8. While Ray J made the term “smashed the homie” popular, Harp was the original purveyor of bringing that into Black pop culture zeitgeist. Sure everybody’s doing it now, but Harp started that sh*t. Aren’t you even a little bit curious about how that relationship between Lance and Harp turned out all these years later? My man Harp got Lance to the altar and married amidst flashbacks of his girl getting backshots. Are they still cool? Did they manage to make it past that? Inquiring minds would like to know.

9. For entertainment purposes, I’ve got four words: Lance and Mia’s kids.

10. Ultimately, despite what some of us claim, characters we love from movies become part of how we frame certain moments in our own lives. Sure we always wonder how their lives turn out because we invested time and energy into caring about them. So the opportunity to see what happens in the lives of folks we love is fun and exciting. Sure some people like to leave stories where they ended. That’s cool, and I’ll let them finish, but if movies could last for 27 hours, maybe they’d have included the very sequels that folks claim to not care about. But they can’t, so we get sequels. I’m like Joe, I wanna know. I want to know what happened to Harper and Robin. I want to know if Murch ran into T-Pain and told him he was in love with a stripper and inadvertently launched the career of Teddy Pinnedherassdown. Lance is a football player…did my man catch a concussion and have his lips sealed by the NFL settlement or catch a career ending injury and blew his dough and end up on the next ESPN 30 For 30 entitled Still Broke? Did Harper become this great writer with all the books and all the accolades? I mean he hit Oprah off his first book. Now what? Did Q get a real job?

What the f*ck happened?!?!?! I want to know. And so do you. Even if you don’t think you do. And do you know why? Because when Busta Rhymes said, “gimme some more…” you all repeated it. He was talking about The Best Man. I care and so do you dammit.

So yes we’ve already talked about this. And yes, Champ stole my thunder since I’ve actually seen it. Tweece. Twice. Whatever I hate these things.

So that’s my reasoning. Without dropping any spoilers, I really think you’ll enjoy it. My feelings came all out watching it both times. And look me in my face, I ain’t got no worries.

To complete the murder, I’m ALSO going to do some of y’all a solid because I liked it (and you all) so much. I’ve got 30 passes to give a away to an advance screening of The Best Man Holiday in the DC area for next Wednesday, November 13th. I’ve got 15 passes for the AMC Georgetown at 730pm and 15 passes for Cinemark Egyptian at Arundel Mills at the same time and date (November 13th, 730pm). Oh and each pass admits 2 people!!! You and a friend, boo!

You know you want to see it. And I’ll be at the DC screening so we can all watch it together. TWINSIES! Here’s what you need to do if you want one of the passes for you and a friend!

Send an email to panama.jackson@gmail.com telling me why I should give you a pass. Make sure you tell me which screening location you want to attend and what type of gift you will bring with you to give to me as well. I don’t need a soliloquy, like Luther Vandross…just give me a reason to want you back.

See you at the movies.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES, LET’S GO SEE THE STARS aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Where’s The Love Jones?

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***After watching Love Jones again last weekend, I was urged to revisit and revise something I wrote about the film for the Loop21 a few years ago***

Approximately halfway through Love Jones, the iconic 1997 romantic drama centered around a Chicago-area couple, protagonists Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) attend a dance together—their first real “date” since a few somewhat contrived situations caused them to momentarily break away from each other. Predictably, the date goes extremely well. The otherworldly connection and chemistry Darius and Nina share is palpable, and, despite any romantic roadblocks (contrived or otherwise or just named “Bill Bellamy”), you know that things are going to work for them.

But, while this date night dance scene’s main purpose was to give the audience a visual segue from Darius and Nina’s short-term separation to their impending romance, writer/director Ted Witcher does something else, something a bit subtler and a bit more poignant. With the vibrant music, colorfully coordinated dance steps, and equally colorful (and equally coordinated) attire, Witcher introduces the audience to the world of Chicago steppin’—a derivative of swing dancing popular in the South and Midwest. Although the scene is only a couple minutes long, Witcher presents this dance phenomenon and the anonymous steppers to us with the same regard, enchantment, and love exhibited when the lens is focused on any of the main characters.

Says the late Roger Ebert:

“There’s electricity when they go on a date to the weekly steppers’ ball hosted by Herb Kent the Cool Gent, who plays himself. Steppin’ is a Chicago dance style that comes out of jitterbug, cooled down, and as we watch this scene we get that interesting feeling when a fiction film edges toward documentary and shows us something we haven’t seen before.”

In the 16 years since its release (damn, just typing that made me feel old as f*ck) Love Jones has gone from underappreciated romantic drama with a banging soundtrack to the cinematic standard for realistic black romance. (Well, “realistic” other than the fact that it featured a bunch of underemployed negros living in lofts…with exposed brick…in Chicago. But, who’s nitpicking?)

And, while the story and the chemistry between Tate and Long are the most memorable aspects of the film, Love Jones is held in such high regard because Ted Witcher was so obviously in love with everything he put into this movie. More than just a drama, it was an ode to Black culture, to Chicago, to music, to movies, to love, to words, to sex; a paean to the possibilities of people not constrained to 140 characters or less. It’s loved and appreciated because it loved and appreciated both its characters and its audience, a trait also found in Soul Food—a movie that, although not necessarily a romantic drama and not as universally praised as Love Jones, shared Love Jones’ love for its characters and their customs.

These movies, and the level of love and exuberance they were shot with, stand in stark contrast to much of today’s Black romantic fare—both at the theater and on the small screen—which seems to be content with browbeating the audience with messages so heavy-handed it feels like you’re being kicked. (Before this devolves into another angst-ridden conversation about all things wrong with Tyler Perry, I do think that Perry loves his characters. But, Ike loved Tina too, didn’t he?) Instead of a peek into a world we may not have been completely familiar with, we’re left with 60 to 120 minute long psychotherapy sessions and self-help pamphlets featuring people who have never existed on Earth, After Earth, or any other planet humans have ever lived on—movies where writers and directors use the screen as a palate to work out their own issues instead of allowing the audience a chance to be vicarious.

Maybe this cinematic shift is our doing. Maybe our expectations have devolved to the point that we wouldn’t be able to handle a Black movie with more love and nuance than ill will and temple knocking. Still, after watching Love Jones again last weekend, I think we’re ready for another one. We just need to find the love needed to pull it off.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

8 Little Known Black Movie “Facts”

From wondering how different The Matrix would have been with Will Smith—the original choice for “Neo”—in it to reading up on the parallels between Coming to America and The Lion King (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair were the parents of the lead character in both movies), I’ve always been obsessed with finding trivia and other tidbits about particular movies. IMDB.com is a great source for this type of information. There, I found a few fun bits of trivia from our favorite movies that you may not have known.

1) Boomerang’s original script called for Marcus (Eddie Murphy) to lose both Jacqueline (Robin Givens) and Angela (Halle Berry).

Apparently, one of (director) Reginald Hudlin’s friends advised him that the movie ending with Eddie getting no girl would have upset the audience. And, if the hundreds of thousands of young Black men who wanted to be an “ad exec” after seeing this movie (and wanting Marcus Graham’s life) are any indication, he was definitely right.

2) The list of actresses and entertainers considered for the role of Shug Avery in The Color Purple reads like a “Who’s Who?” of early 80′s pop culture.

Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, Phyllis Hyman, Lola Falana, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Sheryl Lee Ralph all were considered for the role at one point. Basically, if you were a famous Black woman who happened to be in her mid 30′s to early 40′s and you weren’t considered for this role, you probably needed to fire your agent.

3) They apparently start very early in South Central. Like, very, very, very, very, very early.

This is the only way to explain the peculiar parent-child casting decisions in Boyz n The Hood. Although they were father and son in the movie, Laurence Fishburne is only six years older than Cuba Gooding Jr. Adding insult to very early parenthood is the fact that Tyra Ferrell is only seven years older than the actors who played her sons, Morris Chestnut and Ice Cube.

Read more at EBONY.com