Best Man Holiday Beats Expectations As A Win for ‘Race Themed’ Films

I found it funny how there were so many people who were “surprised” and “shocked” that the film “The Best Man Holiday” had done so well at the box office last weekend. It’s as if the national media was shocked that so many black people came out to support a film where the main characters looked like them for a change. Then there was the USA Today article on “race-themed movies.”

The article seemed innocuous enough, but the headline “‘Holiday’ nearly beats ‘Thor’ as race themed films soar,” left me shaking my head. “Best Man Holiday” made over $30 million in its opening weekend, just behind “Thor” at $34 million, but where USA Today is wrong is labeling “Best Man Holiday” a race-themed film. Just because it’s a film that features a predominately black cast doesn’t make it anymore about race than the gluttony of films made up of all white casts that are never viewed as being about race.

What this also reveals is that when it comes to identifying with characters, white audiences are not asked to identify with black characters the same way in which black audiences are asked to relate to white characters. This is mainly due to the fact in my opinion that there are far more films with white leads or predominately white casts (with blacks playing ancillary roles) that it seems almost normal as to be expected in most films. When it comes to films featuring mainly black folks, these films are looked at as out of the norm not only because of the racial breakdown of the cast, but because there are so few of them. As a white individual you can look past these films and know that 90% of major Hollywood productions will feature casts that most resemble you. As a person of color, you simply do not have that option.

So when somebody points out “Best Man Holiday” as being ‘race-themed’ and compares it to films such as “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler,” and “12 Years A Slave,”  films where race does play a central role, it shows a lack of understanding. It’s as if to say because all these films feature back people prominently, they must all be saying the same thing. That’s like someone comparing “That 70’s Show” and “Sex and the City” to each other because they both feature overwhelmingly white casts.

In the midst of all this last week, I thought about this billboard announcing NBC’s 2013 Fall Comedy lineup. Notice anything?

I don’t recall any national headlines about NBC’s ‘race-themed’ comedy lineup. Just saying.

Diversifying The American TV Family

A few weeks ago on the African-American themed cable station Centric, I came across a show by the name of “227” that piqued my interest.

“227” revolved around the daily lives and experiences of a middle class black family residing in 1980s Washington D.C. The show starred actress Marla Gibbs, who had achieved fame as the maid in “The Jeffersons.” Also featured was a young Regina King in what would be her first substantive role in a long career. Then there was Jackee Harry, who is probably better known to my generation as the television mother to this famous set of twins.

This got me curious. When people think about a prominent black family featured on television, one of the first images that probably comes to mind is “The Cosby Show.” After all, “The Cosbys” featured a ‘well off’ black family headed by doctor Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and his lawyer wife, Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad). The couple had five kids between them and resided in a place that’s come a long way from when the show first aired: Brooklyn.

Some criticized “The Cosbys” saying it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of how the majority of black people were living at the time and that it was almost a little too perfect. Damned if you do, damned if don’t, I say. What I don’t think can be lost is that while “The Cosbys” may have been somewhat unrealistic for many people of color at the time, it doesn’t mean the show had any less of an impact to the people who tuned in every week. “The Cosbys” would in fact open the door for another well heeled African-American family while setting the stage for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. Only this family was situated a little further to the west. About 3,000 miles west.

When “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” debuted on NBC in September 1990, nobody could have foreseen it becoming one of the primer shows of a generation. Even now, years later, your bound to get a group of people singing along to that catchy opening theme song. “The Fresh Prince” touched on a variety of issues regarding everything from racial profiling, to dating, to Will’s antics with his Uncle Phil. “Fresh Prince” didn’t just make you laugh, it could also enlighten as well, while generally being safe for younger audiences so that everyone could watch.

These were just a few shows that helped diversify the American family television landscape, but they were far from the only ones. Here’s a few more, stretching from the mid-70s to as recently as a few years ago:

“The Jeffersons” (1975-1985)

“The Cosby Show” (1984-1992)

“227” (1985-1990)

“Family Matters” (1989-1998)

“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (1990-1996)

“The Hughleys” (1998-2002)

“My Wife and Kids” (2001-2005)

“George Lopez” (2002-2007)