Guest Blogger, Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Black Cinema, The Best Man Holiday, and Mainstream Malarkey

[Admin. Note: Sometimes a writer hits me up with something I was going to write about, beating me to the punch in some fashion with an interesting perspective. Today is one of those days. So open your minds and hearts to Tonja Stidhum. Welcome her to the house.]

"So let me get this right: I got a light skint negrro to my right and a white man to my left and this is STILL a Black movie? F*ck out of here."

“So let me get this right: I got a light skint negro to my right and a white man to my left and this is STILL a Black movie? F*ck out of here.”

I’ve always loved the phrase, “same difference.” My mama first introduced it to me when I was a kid, and just the pure wit of it attracted me. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve noticed that it was more than a biting comeback… it was truth.

As a screenwriter, I am fully immersed in film culture and truly get my life from industry news. I’m the ninja that reads every Deadline dot com email and they send about a hunnid thousand trillion of those a day. No real exaggeration. I can talk for hours about dissecting a film, the politics of film, the soundtrack of a film, the film award season, and even how film relates to chicken.

One particular aspect of film culture that has always garnered my interest/angered passion is the term “mainstream.” For years, Black films have been in a cinematic struggle-fight, attempting to be inducted in this mysterious mainstream club. Black films aren’t films, they’re Black films. And there’s this secret mainstream formula that Black filmmakers haven’t figured out yet.

Ummm… except not.

The Best Man Holiday, the nostalgic-filled sequel to The Best Man, premiered in nationwide theaters this past weekend and it regurgitated this conversation in full-swing. The successful opening of The Best Man Holiday had Hollywood tongues wagging, pulling in 10.7 million bucks on its Friday debut. This was bawse-sauce as it was up against Thor 2, a superhero film, which is basically the equivalent of going up against Ali in the ring. As the weekend rounded out, however, Thor 2 ended up winning the weekend war, prompting yet another layer of the on-going conversation on “race-themed” films. Shout-out to USA Today for that gem. (-_-)

Here’s my issue: The idea that Black films are mutually exclusive of mainstream culture is the poopiest part of bull poop (I know… mature, right? Bite me. … Also mature). As much as Hollywood and society tries to straw-feed us that mushy mess, I rejected it wholeheartedly. The “mainstream audiences can’t relate to Black-themed stories” argument? I don’t even buy it with Monopoly money.

Sure, there are inside jokes and nuances of a Black film that everyone can’t relate to. But, guess what, Chicken Butt? All of those things are also in every other film/TV show ever. Let’s go with a “mainstream” example in media: Sex in the City. When that show was in its heyday, I remember one of the popular criticisms of that show was how unrealistic the lifestyle was. How the main protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw, was able to afford her luxurious wardrobe on the basic b*tch budget of a writer. Generally, the main demographic watching that show couldn’t relate to that lifestyle at all. And yet, somehow, that same demographic watched the show… in droves. And that “somehow” had to do with the core of any form of storytelling. The underlying themes. What the regular Jane Doe demographic could relate to were the themes of friendship and love. And that is the point of connecting with a film and TV show. It has little to do with being able to say, “Girl, I totes always buy a pair of Manolos on my way to the dancery!” and more to do with being able to say, “Girl, I totes know what it feels like to love someone and our timing is never right.” The latter is what keeps us staring at that idiot box every Thursday night and what keeps us paying 10 bucks (each!!!) for what is no longer a cheap date.

The Best Man Holiday, while rife with race-specific jokes and references, had each of those themes. The only difference was the the main ensembles’ skin tones. Which brings us to a very uncomfortable conversation. Because it forces us to break through all the bull… all the detracting arguments that never amount to anything real. Mainstream culture can surely relate to Black films, especially Black romantic comedies. What the French toast is more universal than love?!

Mainstream culture/Hollywood claiming that they can’t relate to Black films only tells me they’re watching films wrong. And I am hard-pressed to believe that is the case because somehow, the reverse happens all the time. Black audiences can watch “mainstream” (read: White) films and not relate to any of the nuances of those characters, yet somehow connect to the film’s overall theme/story. Black audiences definitely factor in the success of mainstream films so if we can do it, why can’t they?

Oh, but they can. And they know they can. The problem is… they refuse to. Ooooh… to piggyback off a filmic phrase: and the plot thickens.

We are all different in infinite ways and I embrace all of those. I think it’s the beauty of humanity. But, what connects us all… is how we’re the same.

Same difference, indeed.

What say you, mainstream blog nation? Do you believe it is possible to  replace  a White lead with a Black lead and it still be the same story, as it’s truly the themes that matter? Or do you believe that Black films are that far removed from everyone else? Speak on it.

Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter, lollygagging (in third person) in Chicago. Working on that “for pay” part. You can catch her occasional musings at embracethej.tumblr.com and follow her scatterbrained thoughts at @embracethej.

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Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    The movie 2 Days In Paris updated with Chris Rock (not the actual French version) proves your theory that race can be interchangeable for a love story, ergo not making the movie race based. (that was an art house indie flick though).

    I think a mainstream movie with a Black lead that mirrors Stupid Crazy Love (I love this movie) can be made with a Black, Asian, or Hispanic lead with the dame appeal as a White lead. But writers, producers, and the financial backers always fear ethnic groups won’t get it if you don’t.cater to them. Find me a great team of writers that think outside the box as well as producers who cut through the bullsh*t and you will have your mainstream release with Michael B. Jordan as the lead.

    Stop being scared America. You’ll just feel a small prick and it will be over before you know it.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    The movie 2 Days In Paris updated with Chris Rock (not the actual French version) proves your theory that race can be interchangeable for a love story, ergo not making the movie race based. (that was an art house indie flick though).

    I think a mainstream movie with a Black lead that mirrors Stupid Crazy Love (I love this movie) can be made with a Black, Asian, or Hispanic lead with the dame appeal as a White lead. But writers, producers, and the financial backers always fear ethnic groups won’t get it if you don’t.cater to them. Find me a great team of writers that think outside the box as well as producers who cut through the bull/$h*t and you will have your mainstream release with Michael B. Jordan as the lead.

    Stop being scared America. You’ll just feel a small prick and it will be over before you know it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/pleasefeedthedj ChaoticDiva

    I just had to shout out to fine arse Eddie Cibrian (Viva Cuba!) who could get it any day. But yes, I 10000% cosign with this statement. Oh, and BM2 was amazeballs of a movie!

  • Sandpaper

    WHAT.

    THE.

    HELL!

    This particular full moon and associated celestial arrangement is fukcing with me too but GAHTDAMNNNNN! Some of y’all need to drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, blow your nose, take a cold shower and stop commenting for a few days.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Bunni love it’s all in the spoils that come along with being mainstream. Why must all decent projects created by us go the chitlin circuit route in terms of budgets and marketing? I grow weary of when we do well it’s viewed as the light shining on a dog’s arse when statistically speaking more big budget white films fail at the box office than black big budget films.

    I don’t want for films that don’t contain melanin deficient faces to be marginalized and evaluated by a movie critic’s without applying the black movie filter. Ask yourself, would the Scary Movie franchise have made so much money if people knew the Wayan’s brothers were behind it first?

  • Sigma_Since 93

    It’s not necessarily about the recycling but more about what people think about us and our lives. You can take any of the VSB’s / VSS’s and create Friends, Will and Grace, Sex in the City, etc. because we KNOW that there are up and coming black professionals that live in the same manner that the Friends cast does.

    I still find it funny to this day how many people said the Cosby Show wasn’t realistic because there aren’t any college educated, successfully employed, married, black couples living like that. I wonder do people still have that mindset?

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Black movies have a tendency to reinforce our stereotypes to the point where we fear the mainstream audience saying ” see, i knew Black people love to do that” without addressing that those stereotypes don’t reflect all of us.

    A teen comedy is typical: slut, nerd, jock, good girl, class clown, and a paery where everybody wants to bang. But despite the stereotypes, you know its true, and you know that’s not everybody but everybody can relate somehow. That’s what we need for Black movies IF we can get more.made.

  • Rachmo

    Hahaha it was in college so we were all single. It was actually fun and we used to do things like Porn Night, Italian Movie Night, French Movie Night. So I said Black Girl Movie Night and everyone was like oooh pretty Black stuff IN

  • PivotTable

    I have to say the actual script… was overloaded with plot points and that is something a lot of the famous black screenwriters do. I’ll just use Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. She Hate Me had about fifty-eleven different elements going on at the same damn time and unnecessarily so.

    Whereas Steve McQueen wrote Shame and stuck to one subject and explored it subtly and hence all the well-deserved critical acclaim.

    I personally LOVED Best Man Holiday, but to me this movie worked in spite of the plot. The performances and cast and their chemistry was just DAMN GOOD. I just wanted to be their friend and part of it all. This movie would have worked had you just had the entire cast in a bar shooting the breeze for 2 hours. It would have been just as entertaining. Just well-acted characters. A charming ass cast.

    But I have to agree with my white brethren that the script had a lot of dramatic elements that were a bit forced and the only reason it worked and didn’t feel forced is because the cast was magic and natural.

    Had this been a less seasoned cast or a cast without their chemistry and comedic timing, this movie could have easily been as frustrating and over the top as a Tyler Perry stage play.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    I really want to ask him what kind of man does it take to take on of the richest and most successful pop dtars of all time our her “teenage slut phase even though she’s in her 30s but desperately needs to use sex for validation despite winning everyone’s hearts eons ago” and turning her into a woman who takes her pills regularly but still wants to flash her boobs like she’s in Girls Gone Wild?

  • Freebird

    In real life I’m firmly on team smash who the h@ll you choose. But you do have a point as it relates to media potrayals. There do seem to be more and perhaps it’s the time of change and racial improvement we live in. I think I understand why folks feel good about the diversity. I do too. Hell I like to see Eva Mendez with Denzel or Will Smith. I’d love to see real A-listers like Angelina, Natalie Portman or the new comer from the Hunger Games (you know, white women white men covet) with a brother….maybe one day….would show we all really have arrived in the mainstream. I’m all for it. In fact they may be out there and I’ve missed them.

    But famous black women (black women black men covet) with white dudes aint a brand new movement either and no big deal. As it relates to TV I’ve seen I’ll add:

    Star Trek
    Dynasty
    The Jeffersons
    General Hospital

  • http://www.blackyodaprime.blogspot.com/ Black Yoda

    Being the only black guy with a bunch of white girls watching pron in a college dorm is quite an experience. They always ask…”questions.” :0) The answer is always “Yes it is.” Afterwards you invite them back to your dorm room where you just happen to be dressed like the black male pron star they just saw. What does that look like? Jeans, a pair of tims, a cap, no shirt and a gold chain or a some dog tags around your neck. #Don’t JudgeMe :-)

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