Tuesday, June 26, 2012

FILM TOPIC: Race and Rom-Coms

Yesterday, a writer for the British publication The Guardian wrote a piece called "Race and the Rom-com: Is Think Like a Man realistic or racist?" In it, he tries to make the argument that white romantic comedies have more romance, while black ones put more emphasis on the comedic aspect of the plot because black audiences don't respond to romantic storylines. He writes:
"...whereas Caucasian romcoms tend to be hymns to the sanctity of love, Think Like a Man is com rather than rom, with romance being treated as little more than the film's ultimate joke. ... A doctrinal prologue presents the purpose of marriage for men as the assertion of virility rather than the consecration of devotion. ... The guys seek only copulation without strings; the gals are calculatingly intent on entrapment into wedlock."
First off, that's a gross generalization of what happens in the film. Only two of the six male characters are seeking "copulation without strings," and only two of the female ones are actively and intensely seeking a husband. Think Like a Man actually does an impressive job of displaying as many types of black personas and relationships without seeming heavy-handed or stereotypical.

The writer goes on to say:
"Tropes like the cutesy initial meeting and subsequent romantic yearning are relatively unusual. The male lead is unlikely to win his woman through noble sacrifice or worthy behavioural change and thereby become a hero. Instead, he's likely to remain in the grip of foolishness and sexual excess even as he triumphs. Female leads aren't much moved emotionally by falling in love or allowed to idealise the process. Nor are they permitted to become too vulnerable."
The top two most famous black romances are Love Jones and Love & Basketball, which contain everything he said in that paragraph. I can only assume he's either 1) never seen any other black romance besides Think Like a Man, which, by the way, does not end with male characters who "remain in the grip of foolishness and sexual excess" and has a major character who idealizes the hell out of "the process" of falling in love, or 2) he's completely unaware of how racist his theory sounds.

I do, however, have a theory regarding his declaration that black rom-coms don't have romance or treat it like a joke, and that there are no meet-cutes or gushy moments. I think--and I apologize in advance if it seems racist--that the reason white audiences might be more receptive to completely implausible love stories that start and finish in some fairyland where everything is resolved with a simple apology or a kiss is because black people aren't raised to believe that such things can happen to them. It's not just skepticism. It was repeatedly told to us that true love is just a concept used in movies and commercialized for a profit. No one is going to ride up on a white horse in shining armor to rescue you us from the ghetto or racism or our dwindling economy. Love doesn't magically fall into your lap. When a guy follows you home, it's not cute. It's called stalking or harassment. If your husband divorces you, you don't then go on a roadtrip to eat and pray. If a guy professes his undying love to you after just meeting you, he's either high, drunk, or trying to get into your pants. We live in reality because it's entirely too dangerous for us to take a vacation from it. And yes, maybe some or most of our romances reflect that, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't watch a love story or be able to appreciate one. In fact, I think what it means is that we have a higher regard for the genre and demand better writing, better romantic declarations, and better conflicts.

In short, Think Like a Man isn't racist and doesn't lack romance. In fact, it not only scored higher with critics than it's fellow ensemble romances (New Years' Eve, Valentine's Day, and He's Just Not That Into You), but it stands to make more at the box office, too.

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