So this is how the conversation started…
A few weeks ago I asked two friends about a black rom-com they recently watched. My male friend shrugged off and called it a “chick flick.” Of course when the female friend heard that, she rolled her eyes and said “Why do you guys always say that? So name me a black romantic film that guys love.” My male friend immediately said "Nothing but a Man".
Now that may seem a really unlikely choice for a black romantic film, but I understand what my friend was getting at, and I’ll get to that in the minute.
So then my female friend turned to me for my response, and I thought for a few seconds, and said “A Warm December,” to which she replied “I KNEW you were going to say that!”.
I don’t know how she knew, but she did.
But the point is that, neither December nor Nothing but a Man are what anyone would consider to be chick flicks. Far from it! They’re romance films. Though let me, at least in my opinion, explain what I think is the difference.
Now, people would say there’s no difference between a chick flick and a romance film, as you call it. Just a different way of calling the same type of movie. Nope.
By chick flick I mean a lightweight film that deals with usually a shallow woman, complete with perfect teeth, who trips over herself trying to finally get some equally shallow, severely charisma-challenged, good looking stud with perfect teeth.
Her whole being for existence is defined by hooking up with this guy. And usually the woman has some “sassy” best friend who represents her conscience with lines like: “Gurrrrrrrl you need love!”
You know films like Baggage Claim.
I don’t have to see the film to tell you what it's like. The trailer tells it all. And if you go see it when it comes out, count how many guys are in the theater; and I don’t mean the weaklings who were dragged in by their wives or girlfriends (You can always tell those guys. They’re the ones with the look of extreme pain on their faces).
Guys hate films like that, like the plague. In fact, I dare say that most of us can’t understand what you see in them, that you want something more of substance.
A romantic film is something else. It’s the kind of film that Hollywood always made during the early 30’s all the way through the 1970’s. By the 80’s, that’s when romance films started to become more “chick flicky”. Mainly because they reflect the stunted development and limited view of life that the filmmakers have - people who have lived sheltered lives and not, as a friend of mine likes to always say, “been beaten up by life.”
A romance film deals with adults who have bruises and pains of just going through life day by day. They’re not perfect, nor glamorous, nor have perfect teeth; but they have deep feelings, emotions and want to be in love like those good looking people.
That’s what my friend was getting at with Nothing but a Man. The film is about a lot of things, about the psychological and emotional toll of racism, and just being black in America. But at the core of the film, is a love story.
A love story about two decidedly unglamorous, flawed people. Far from the young black professionals with perfect teeth who live in expensive condos, which you know, in real life, they couldn’t afford. Two people who have been given the runaround by life, but they keep going, doing the best they can. Actually, in Nothing but a Man, the two leads are totally wrong for each other. But they see that each other has something in them that they desperately need.
Now with A Warm December, which Sidney Poitier also directed and was released in 1972, it is, admittedly, a more glossy Hollywood concoction. But it also deals with what I’ve just talked about. It’s a film, about two adults, both of them with serious issues.
Sidney Poitier is a doctor with a young daughter on vacation in London, where he's to participate in some motorcycle races. He’s also a widower, and despite his glib, charming air, he’s still trying, inwardly, to deal with grief and loss.
He soon meets a beautiful, equally charming woman (Esther Anderson) who’s being followed by several different men, every time he meets her, which adds a sort of mystery element to the film. She also has a strange habit of disappearing at the oddest times.
But that does not stop them from falling head over heels for each other. And who can help them? Anderson's character is incredibly vivacious, with a genuine personality, a sophisticated wit as well as being an incredibly layered and complex person. She’s no superficial chick looking for a some equally superficial, dull stud. They hold no interest for her.
But her easy charm masks her pain.
It turns out she’s the daughter as the ambassador of a (fictitious) African country, and the dramatic twist (close your eyes if you won’t wait to know the spoiler) is that Anderson has sickle cell anemia, which almost, for certain, will send her to an early death. So they're both faced with a dilemma: to decide whether to continue their blooming love affair though knowing that it will evidently lead to a sad ending.
Now that’s no superficial chick flick. A tear jerker? You betcha'. In particular, in one terrific scene where Poitier has no choice to tell his young daughter, who’s grown very fond of Anderson, how sick she is. It’s not a film about superficial, pretty people being all superficial and pretty. It’s a film about love and loss, and if the worst comes, how will they deal with it?
Now that’s a romance film that guys like, and I know women do too - that is, if they ever get a chance to see it. The really sad thing is that we don’t get romance films like A Warm December anymore.
Just Baggage Claim.
By the way, as an addendum: after December, Anderson went on to become a highly internationally-acclaimed avant garde artist, and celebrity portrait photographer, with her work shown in art galleries and museums around the world, as well as a documentary filmmaker. Her most recent documentary, Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend, opened in the U.K. in December 2011.
Here’s the trailer for A Warm December: