Are We Witnessing A Resurgence Of Black Rom-Coms Similar To The Late 1990s/Early 2000s?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 24, 2013 3:58 PM
17 Comments
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A thought... given recent project greenlights, where "black cinema" is concerned, I'm reminded of the late 1990s/early 2000s, when rom-coms or rom-drams (romantic dramas) with all-black casts, were popular: Hav PlentyLove JonesThe Best Man, Love & Basketball, Brown Sugar, Two Can Play That Game, The Wood, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and on, and on, and on...

I'm now wondering if we just might be seeing the beginnings of another period in which Hollywood studio-backed "relationship/romance dramedies" that tell stories about black people, dominate the black cinema landscape - maybe thanks in large part to the success of the film that we might look back on years from now as the kickstarter of this new *era* in black cinema: the very successful Think Like A Man (TLAM); the $12 million movie that grossed over $95 million worldwide (most of that in the USA). Although there have been other black rom-coms that came before it, in the last decade - but none that has seen anywhere close to the kind of box office success TLAM enjoyed - a key point.

Other studios now seem to want to replicate Think Like A Man's success, with their own black rom-coms, like David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim at Fox Searchlight - a project that seemed to be all-but-buried. It was first announced in 2010, but was soon followed by Fox Searchlight's statement that the studio was "pulling back from its foray into black-themed films." Why? Well, the last few "black-themed" films at that time that had been distributed by the studio hadn't exactly set the box office on fire - namely, Just Wright and Our Family Wedding, each grossing only about $20 million in domestic box office, as well as Notorious ($37 million gross, on an estimated $18 million budget) and I Think I Love My Wife ($13 million domestic on an $11 million budget). 

Baggage Claim was seemingly resuscitated last year, with Paula Patton in the lead (Taraji P. Henson was initially attached).

And then there's the recently-announced remake of the late 1980s relationship dramedy, About Last Night, which follows a relationship, from one-night-stand, to monogamous relationship, to cohabitation, to novelty wearing off, to problems arising, to relationship ends, to boy and girl eventually reuniting.

It's coming from some of the Think Like A Man crew (super producer Will Packer, and stars Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, to be released by Sony/Screen Gems).

And also of note is the sequel to one of those late 1990s films that I referenced above, The Best Man, is in production right now, with the current title, The Best Man Holiday.

Producer Tracey Edmonds recently revealed that there's a Jumping The Broom sequel in the works, as well as a feature project that will be inspired by the Basketball Wives reality TV show. She's developing that with Shaunie O'Neal (ex-wife of Shaquille O'Neal), and it will be penned by Jumping The Broom co-writer Elizabeth Hunter.

The common concern when this was first announced last year was how the reality TV show would translate to screen.

Ms O'Neal set the record straight about the upcoming film, hoping to calm any fears you might have for what the completed feature project will look, sound and feel like, stating that it's not a "Basketball Wives" movie:

You don’t take a reality show and make it a movie [...] Even though it has to do with basketball life, it’s not actually taking Basketball Wives from TV and making it a movie. And it’s not about women sitting around arguing or lunching all the time. It’s an actual story. It’s a love story. It’s an empowering story. It’s funny. It’s life [...] It’s so nothing like the TV show at all. No comparison.

There's also Lionsgate's big screen adaptation of erotic fiction writer Zane's popular novel Addicted, which follows the trials and tribulations of a successful sex-addicted African American businesswoman. Tasha SmithBoris KodjoeSharon Leal, Emayatzy Corinealdi and others are starring, with Bille Woodruff directing.

Although that'll probably fall under relationship drama, instead of relationship comedy.

Tina Gordon Chism's rom-com Peeples will beat all the others to theaters, when it's released next month.

Last year, George Tillman Jr's State Street Pictures picked up feature film rights to a book titled Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed by pop culture blogger Christelyn D. Karazin and journalist Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, which sounds like it could be more dramedy than pure comedy, based on the description, but is still very much in the same "relationship" family of films as the others.

And then there's a project that we first reported on in 2009, which has also been given new life, thanks to what I'm calling the Think Like A Man Effect; It's called Ride Along, an Ice Cube project that was originally set up at Warner Bros, in which Cube was to star in as a rogue cop who tries to break off his sister's engagement to an upper-crust white psychiatrist, by inviting his future brother-in-law on a ride-along.

Fast-forward 3 years later to the announcement in 2012 that Universal Pictures had picked up Ride Along out of turnaround from New Line (a Warner Bros subsidiary), and fast-tracked the project, but with some new names attached in front and behind the camera.

Kevin Hart, who's really hot right now, as his name has come up for a handful of projects since TLAM's release; he'll co-star with Cube as a high school security guard who is ready to get married, but must first survive a Training Day-like ride along experience with his bride's tough cop brother, played by Ice Cube, who doesn’t want the marriage to happen and tries to scare Hart's character away.

Tika SumpterJay PharoahJohn Leguizamo and Bryan Callen, co-star, with Tim Story directing, and Will Packer producing.

So the "race play" is officially gone, with the suitor now a black man.

It doesn't sound like your typical rom-com, and may be more of a manhood challenge; but given what's at stake in the above synopsis, I'll include it.

And there are others that I can't recall at the moment...

But success breeds more success; it's no secret how unwilling Studio execs are to take risks on original scripts - especially when they tell stories about black people. So when one kind of project is immensely successful, it shouldn't at all be a surprise when similar projects follow, soon thereafter. We saw this happen in the early 1990s, after the success of John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, and the string of so-called "hood" films that followed; and we saw it again in the late 1990s/early 2000s, with the rise of what were then collectively referred to as "Buppy movies." 

Not my term...

Keep in mind that the majority of the movies I mentioned above (and others I didn't) are all scheduled to be released in the next 12 to 18 months - a relatively short period of time, and quite a rush to get them all in.

If you're a black filmmaker, especially if you're chasing Hollywood studio dreams, are you influenced by what seems like a resurgence of these kinds of movies? Do you find yourself wondering if you should set that sci-fi script aside (please reconsider if you are) and instead work on a rom-com or relationship dramedy?

Not that you writing one is a guarantee of anything. So much else has to happen before your script becomes a film. It'll be a challenge to even get that opportunity to pitch to a studio, if you don't already have a foot in the door. Although private/independent investors might bite if your pitch includes the words "It's like Think Like A Man..." accompanied by a box office chart showing that film's earnings.

Just a thought...

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17 Comments

  • FedUpMovieLover | May 1, 2013 11:01 PMReply

    I sure IN THE HELL hope not! I am so sick & tired of us in only comedies, rom-coms or dramas. What about action, horror, suspense, thrillers, fantasy, epics, hell even live animations! & not just the plug-in token Black actor here type movie. No wonder I dont frequent the movie theater often anymore.

  • Rob | April 29, 2013 4:31 PMReply

    White actresses can have an entire careers doing rom-coms (jennifer anniston, etc.). Some, if not all, of their stuff is junk. But, their movies still get made and they keep working. Having the opportunity to get these stories (black cast) out there is half the battle. Improving the films with each foray is the next chapter.

  • lilkunta | April 27, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    Im happy about The Best Man Holiday. Does this also mean there will be Boyz N Hood 2? Higher Learning 2? Soul Food 2? Love & Basketball ? Brothers 2?

  • lilkunta | April 27, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    __Why? Well, the last few "black-themed" films at that time that had been distributed by the studio hadn't exactly set the box office on fire - namely, Just Wright and Our Family Wedding, each grossing only about $20 million in domestic box office, as well as Notorious ($37 million gross, on an estimated $18 million budget) and I Think I Love My Wife ($13 million domestic on an $11 million budget). __i am glad for all these films. It is good to see ourselves represented on film.
    Notorius WAS NOT a rom com, it was a biopic. It made only $37mill?
    i liked 'our family wedding', i didnt know it made only $20mill.
    ITILMW is a chris rock movie, his anglo fans didnt support it ?

  • rasheed | April 27, 2013 5:33 PMReply

    A 'resurgence'? What other genre of Black film have we had in the past decade BUT rom-coms? LOL!

  • Black Belt Jones | April 27, 2013 12:44 PMReply

    No matter what color it is, a sequel to a romantic comedy is just a bad idea. Never cared much for the characters to want to watch them again. Just assume the characters get married, have kids, and live life happily ever after. A sequel to a romantic comedy just slowly and painfully turns itself into an annoying sitcom series.

  • Monique a Williams | April 26, 2013 8:29 PMReply

    I used to call the Black n Pretty movies, and I loved them. Those were the films that made me want to be a screenwriter as a teen. I'm thrilled they are coming back. Tyler Perry shouldn't have a monopoly on telling tales of Black love when he is lying about his orientation daily.

  • Daryl | April 24, 2013 7:43 PMReply

    Black films have always been presented in a monolithic fashion from straight up comedies, rom - com comedies, hood gangster dramas when it comes to hollywood distribuion of black films. Black filmmakers are never given the chance to be original, they always have to play to stereotypes or go with what's hot, but we don't have to do this anymore, technology has allowed independent filmmakers to make films on small budgets that have the same quality as studios films, I'm talking about the look of the films, that was the main thing that use to seperate studio films from the small independent films but this is no longer the case. We keep having these conversations like we don't have these tools available to us. Get your digital cameras, get actors and a crew that work hard and dedicated and you will be alright. As far as distribution you can screen the movies yourself and release the movies yourself online with your own marketing plan, you don't have to make a million dollars to be sucessful, remember you did your film on a small budget, example: your film and marketing budget is $ 2000-$4000, your film end up grossing $5000- to $10,000, you are a sucess you made your money back and you can do another film. Stop being sold on the hollywood Illusion of your film have to make a million dollars to be successful. Your film turns a profit or your'e able to make another film it's successful. So what are we really talking about? I think too many of us are concern with status and being part of the hollywood establishment instead of telling our own stories and doing great work. When the independent filmmakers and actors stop chasing hollywood and worry about getting better as artist or becoming passionate about stories we want to tell and being happy with it no matter how many people see it, we will keep having these recycled conversations over and over that goes nowhere.

  • EM | April 24, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    I want more diverse films, not just black films. Regardless of the genre (rom-coms and anything with Tyler Perry's name on it being the worst) I'm tired of the "black experience" or the "black themed" stories and points of view, with the exception of historically based stories non-fictional stories. Our experiences are not solely defined and based on the amount of melanin production in our skin so why should movies that feature actors and actresses of color be defined by just that, their color? People talk about seeing more black films in the mainstream, I'm more interested in seeing multiethnic casting integrated into mainstream movies. For example "Beasts of the Southern Wild" it's not a story about a black girl and her black father, it's simply a girl and her father, the story was written based on the experience of the screenwriter's relationship with her father, and she happened to be white, but they cast the best girl for the job which then led to casting the best man for the job of playing her father, or Idris Elba's casting in "Thor" (which of course was met with idiotic racism from some "fans"), it's a mythology where anyone can be any color and Kenneth Branagh knew that. I think we need to start demanding more color-blind casting as opposed to just more casting of black actors for black movies. Hopefully with actors like Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Kerry Washington, Quevenzhane Wallis, Nicole Beharie, and Michael B. Jordan getting more visibility things will change and more and more films will have integrated characters. As their names get bigger, studios will realize that white isn't the only color that makes money.

  • Agent K | April 25, 2013 2:41 PM

    @Em
    I get what your saying and I agree to a certain degree. Appreciate the response.

  • EM | April 25, 2013 1:30 PM

    @Agent K
    Black Panther has to be black because of the background and context in which he was written. If you change his ethnicity, his story wouldn't make any sense. Idris Elba as Heimdall(r) is different, he can exist regardless of his color, yes there's Norse mythology which served as inspiration for the comics, and they are all white; but that's just it, it's mythology and nothing more, it's not based in fact, just loosely subjective folklore about the origins of one group of people. Black Panther's very identity though is underscored by a series of historical and documented movements/events that happened before his inception as a comic. So yes, I would mind, because it wouldn't be truthful.

    It's a shame actually, that Marvel's been dragging their feet in terms of getting the Black Panther film going. But it's all about a bankable black actor and a strong script, which brings me back to my original point, there needs to be a greater inclusion of color in independent films (that are made for a wider audience within the festival circuit like, not just black film festivals. Example: "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "Middle of Nowhere", "Fruitvale Station", and although not really a crowd favorite, but I enjoyed it, "The Paperboy") as well as a much greater inclusion of color in mainstream films to prove that white isn't the only color an actor has to be in order to bring in money at the box office. Another way to help that along would be to have black writers and filmmakers think outside the box, instead of serving up the typical stereotypes that everyone is tired of. Tyler Perry being the king of that, and the existence of BET doesn't help either. But I think filmmakers like Steve R Mcqueen, Ava Duvernay, and showrunners like Shona Rhimes are helping to change that.

    Viola Davis touches on the lack of creativity on the part of black filmmakers in an interview she did with "Nightline": http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/watch-now-viola-davis-explains-the-dilemma-for-black-actresses-contending-with-the-scripts-she-gets-from-black-filmmakers

  • Agent K | April 25, 2013 8:31 AM

    @Em
    So you wouldn't mind a white Black Panther?

  • Tracee | April 24, 2013 7:11 PM

    BINGO!

  • Ashley | April 24, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    I am so tired of rom coms, ALL OF THEM. They are as repetitive as TP movies.

  • ChezCerise | April 24, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    A sequel to "Jumping the Broom"? I couldn't make it thru 45 minutes of the first one.

  • Sarah | April 24, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    No. None of those films you mentioned are anything to write home about or to look forward to. As for as I'm concern, this genre is as dead as finding a quality song on the radio.

  • Nadia | April 24, 2013 4:16 PM

    Um, how's the genre "dead" when there's a whole bunch of films coming out soon? You can ignore them like they don't exist because you don't think they're worth it, but they're coming whether you like it or not, and I bet you people will pay to see them and some of them will probably do very well too. And if a couple of them hit it out of the park you just know that there'll be sequels. Just saying.

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